Elf the Musical - November 2019

Thank you to Ben Coleman, the Chairman of Avocet Theatre Company, for the invitation to review their latest seasonal production – Elf The Musical Jr. I was especially pleased to be visiting this group as they have newly joined the NODA family in District 12 of the London Region. Welcome to you all. Of course I have seen many of you perform with others groups but it was especially exciting to visit a new group to my District.


Being staged in the familiar surroundings of the Wykham Theatre in Banbury this was a fabulous production from start to finish and testament to all the hard work put in by the production team, back stage personnel and of course the young people on stage.


This heart-warming tale of a baby who somehow ends ups at the North Pole as one of Santa’s helpers and soon discovers that as a human baby, he grows quite rapidly (soon towering over the other elves) and is not a very good toy maker.  Buddy, as he is known, on discovering by chance that he is actually human and has a father and family in New York, sets about finding them and therein lies of course the tales of mishap, adventure and even romance which form the basis of the story which is based on the 2003 film starring Will Ferrell as Buddy.


This lively musical version had Alfie Blackwell as the irrepressible and optimistic Buddy. He finds good and innocence in everything and this is the source of much of the humour in the piece. Alfie was outstanding in this role - bounding around the stage with seemingly endless exuberance and vitality. Alfie demonstrated some great comic timing with some great facial expressions and really captured the character very well with excellent vocals and believable interactions with other cast members. I was quite exhausted watching him as he virtually never left the stage. Well done!


Katie Crowther was a joy to watch as Jovie, Buddy’s love interest. She played the character just right getting the cynical side of Jovie across and initially a bit bad tempered with Buddy but eventually warming to him. Katie sang with feeling and with strong vocal projection. Never Fall in Love with an Elf was particularly well interpreted.


George O’Connor as Santa Claus was very good - giving us an amiable and traditional characterisation as he narrates the tale of how Buddy came to be an Elf. This was a strong performance with good interaction with other cast members and clear vocal and spoken diction.


Charlie Cox gave a strong performance as Buddy’s disagreeable and bad tempered businessman father Walter Hobbs with some great singing and some fantastic comic timing as did Ava Butler as Walter’s wife Emily and Colm Forde as Buddy’s half-brother Michael. Ava and Colm had some lovely scenes together and their I’ll Believe in You was especially well done! Both had strong vocal delivery and believable characterisations.


I loved the ever dependable Will Healy as the big boss Mr. Greenway and the Manager of Macy’s. Will always puts all his energies into the parts he plays and his comic timing and stage craft is very good. Congratulations.


Lending strong support in some of the smaller roles were Cheneice White as Deb - Walter’s efficient yet long suffering secretary demonstrating some impressive comedic skills, Kitty Russell and Lexie Franklin as two of Santa’s more important Elves - Charlie and Shawanda - who played their parts with conviction. Camron Northcote, Megan Veres, Eleanor Fairley and Victoria Humphries as Walter’s office staff members - Matthews, Chadwick, Sarah and Sam - gave great performances and really put everything into portraying these supporting characters. Felicity Foster was good as big hearted TV reporter, Charlotte Dennon, and Caitlin Gold and Amelie Foster as Darlene Lambert and Emma Van Brocklin reacted well to the revelation that Buddy knew of their past Christmas gifts. All of you added strong support to the principal cast.  Well done!


There was some fine ensemble work too in this production. The energy levels were amazing and the impact of everyone dressed as Elves suddenly appearing in the opening number was fantastic. The whole ensemble (unfortunately too many of you to single out for individual mention) worked so well as a team whether you were industrious elves or bustling citizens of New York city everyone was totally in character the whole time. You all moved, sang and reacted splendidly to the action on stage and were definitely one of the best young ensemble groups I have seen for a long time. Well done to all of you!


Director Ben Coleman must have been very proud of his hardworking ensemble cast and brilliant principal work. The whole production flowed so well and the characters were very well drawn and believable. This was a production to savour with all the elements coming together to make one tremendous ‘whole’. I liked the pace and the energy on stage and the fact that everyone was so well drilled in their movement and singing. The latter two aspects no doubt down to the hard work of choreographer Amelia Haverson and Musical Director Louise Nunnely, assisted by Gill Crowther. The dancing was first rate with some lovely use of groupings and with steps accessible to all ages and levels of attainment. I liked the tap routine in the finale which was reminiscent of 42nd Street. In spite of the perils of using backing tracks the company and principals delivered some excellent singing with some beautiful harmony singing. Everyone knew their words and did a great job keeping in time with the musical accompaniment. This was a very polished piece of theatre from all aspects of the production, direction, choreography and musical direction. My one reservation was that in the skating scene the roller blades were rather noisy but that is being very picky!


Josh Lake’s lighting plot was just amazing with some wonderful effects which really enhanced the production. The lighting in the skating scene in central park was one of the highlights for me. Josh Smith’s sound design worked well with clear speech and vocal’s from all cast members using mics. The musical balance was just right too and the music sequencing worked very well also.


The hair and make-up team led by Jennie Healy had done a fine job and everyone looked splendid and suitably elfin when required. The costumes supplied by Jeanette Gee at Wacky Wardrobe were perfect and so colourful and completely in keeping with the style and concept of the production. The Elves in particular looked amazing.


I liked the set design by Ben Coleman and Jo Sammons which cleverly and quickly adapted to the various locations. Ben did mention there had been a ‘set disaster’ before the show but it certainly wasn’t apparent in the performance. True professionalism!


Debbie Coleman’s collection of props looked great and I liked the nice touches of authenticity - the period pram was one instance which springs to mind.


The programme was colourful and informative and could be read easily in the semi-darkness. It was also printed on good quality paper and finished to a high standard.


Thank you so much Front of House team and manager Sue Dowers for a really warm welcome for my guest and I. We had a lovely time with you all. In spite of Avocet being a new NODA company it was nice to see so many familiar faces and catch up with all news theatrical!


In conclusion a final thank you to everyone involved with this delightful, festive production. It definitely put me and I’m sure the wonderfully appreciative audience very much in the festive spirit!!


A very Happy Christmas and prosperous New Year to you all!


Rob Bertwistle

Regional Representative