The Beck Center’s production of ‘Elf’ is once again filling the theater seats




The number one rule of theater (and for that matter entertainment in general) is to know your audience. That is the key factor in whether a production is a success or not. Beck Center for the Arts certainly has taken this into consideration by staging the show “Elf: The Musical.”

Based on the hit holiday classic New Line Cinema film by David Berenbaum. The film with a budget of $33 million ended up grossing $222 million worldwide. Personally I do not like the film but that has more to do with my dislike of Will Ferrell than the movie itself but what do I know.

While some see the movie and resulting musical as an irritation you must recognize two facts. One is that the Beck Center’s Senney Theater has been sold out for nearly every performance. Two, the audience really seems to be enjoying the show. They laugh at the funny parts and tear up at the sentimentality. One redeeming feature is that the songs are for the most part forgettable. This is a good thing because I for one would not wish having the tune “Buddy the Elf” as an ear worm. It would rate right up there with the Chipmunk's Christmas Song as an inner ear irritant.

Other pluses for this production is that the cast is extremely energetic. They really put themselves into the roles. The video overlays are some of the finest that have been seen in Cleveland and the sound, lighting and orchestra are top notch. There is a weak story line to contend with (the first act tends to drag along) but the second act picks up the pace for a running finish.

The story begins with Santa Claus (Tom Meyrose) telling the story about how years ago a tiny orphan baby climbed into his gift sack and was unknowingly taken back to the North Pole. Even though he was human, the elves adopted him as their own and raised him as an elf (a rather tall elf at that). Buddy (Tim Allen), as the elves named him, one day overhears two elves talking about how he is in fact a human and not an elf at all. The 30 year old youngster runs to Santa who admits that it is true and that it is time for him to find his long lost father who heads a children’s book publishing company in New York City.

Buddy travels to the Big Apple and The Empire State Building to meet his biological father, Walter Hobbs (Greg Violand) who rejects the youngster. He even has Buddy removed from the building and taken to the nearby Macy’s Department Store where he meets his future girlfriend, Jovie (Understudy Hope Kennedy subbing for Merrie Drees) while making new friends with the Macy’s help and Manager (Miguel Osborne).

When the Macy’s store Santa makes an appearance Buddy gets in a fight with the “impostor” and when the police arrive they escort Buddy to his father’s apartment where he meets his step mother, Emily Hobbs (Neely Gevaart) and step brother, Michael Hobbs (Owen Hill). Buddy helps Michael with an important school project and is allowed to stay the night.

During Buddy’s stay his step mother Emily Hobbs (Neely Gevaart) intercedes on Buddy’s behalf and after a friend confirms through DNA testing that he is indeed her husband’s son she forces her husband to admit his paternal obligation. The next day, Walter buys Buddy a suit to replace his elf outfit and takes him to work.

Things are strained at the publishing company as a major foul up has occurred costing the company a lot of money and even more important the good will of its customers. Buddy innocently destroys a seemingly valuable company saving manuscript and is made homeless once more.

What sells this production is the exuberant energy shown by everyone on stage. While the dancing numbers are a bit pedestrian and the story line the thinnest and most predictable the actors make up for it with their charm. One only needs to watch the sold out audience reaction to realize that at least locally this is a hit.

Bob Martin and Thomas Meehan did the book adaptation with lyrics by Chad Beguelin and music by Matthew Sklar.

The cast consists of Tim Allen as Buddy the Elf, Understudy Hope Kennedy subbing for Merrie Drees as Jovie, Greg Violand as Walter Hobbs, Neely Gevaart as Emily Hobbs, Owen Hill as Michael Hobbs, Lily Warner as Deb, Miquel Osborne as the Macy Manager, Tom Meyrose as Santa and John Lynch as Mr. Greenway. Members of the male ensemble include Maxwell Brodzinski, Patrick Carroll, Zane Gagliardi, Nathan Hoty, Jake Kleve, Reed Kruger, Mike Leahy, Mike Majer and Morgan Thomas-Mills. The Female Ensemble consists of Antonia Cangelosi, Madison Chaitoff, Kayla Gerogosian, Jennifer Jarvis, Hope Kennedy, Christine May, Margo Tipping and Amy Wooly. The youth ensemble consists of Jordyn Freetage, Christian Lee, Corlyn Stauffer, Ella Stec and Sophia Tsenekos.

The Orchestra is made up of Larry Goodpaster (Musical Director and Keyboard I), Bryan Bird (Keyboard II), John Dokler, Karen Langenwalter and Keith Turner (Reeds), Juan Ingram, Josh Krug and Meredith Evans (Trumpets), Gabe Sagan, Eric Richmond, Vinnie Ciulla and Cherokee Miletti (Trombones), Kevin Aylward and Shawn Brandt (Bass) and Bill Hart (Drums and Percussion).

The show is directed by Scott Spence with musical direction by Larry Goodpaster and choreography by Martín Céspedes. The set design is by Adam Rowe with costumes by Betty Pitcher. Steve Shack is the lighting designer. Brittany Merenda is the Projection Designer and Sound Design is by Carlton Guc.

This show reminds me of a certain holiday recipe; sweet potatoes, marshmallows and walnuts. It’s overly sweet, a bit gooey and a little nutty yet tons of this concoction are devoured every Thanksgiving and Christmas. With all of the seats in the theater being filled night after night who am I to argue with logic like that?

“Elf” will be on stage will be on stage in the Senney Theater at the Beck Center for the Arts through January 2, 2021. For more information and tickets go to https://www.beckcenter.org/ or call (216) 521-2540 X10.

For information concerning the Beck Center for the Arts Covid policy go to https://beckcenter.squarespace.com/new-page-1

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Who is Mark Horning?

Over the course of my life I have worked a variety of jobs including newspapers, retail camera sales and photography. Eight years ago I embarked on yet another career as writer. This included articles concerning sports and cultural events in Cleveland, Ohio as well reviews of the many theatrical productions around town. These days are spent photographing professional dance groups, theater companies and various galas and festivals as well as attending various stage performances and posting reviews about them.