BANGOR — Truth be told, “Elf the Musical,” now playing at the Bangor Opera House, is a pretty dorky show. But, then again, that is exactly what it is supposed to be. A sort of “The Jerk” meets “Scrooge” meets “Annie” meets “Mary Poppins” mash-up, it has a completely ridiculous plot, cartoonish characters, silly songs, and a predictable outcome. Nonetheless, it manages to steal your heart.
Mount Desert Island performers Jen Shepard and Frank Bachman are both part of this Penobscot Theatre Company production.
The Christmas-cookie colorful costumes by Moriah and Isobel Curley Clay and their sumptuous set design give new meaning to the phrase “deck the halls.” Scott Hough’s brilliant lighting just gets brighter and more colorful as the show progresses. The excellent musical accompaniment from the pit is led by Larrance Fingerhut. The Broadway-worthy choreography includes some terrific tap routines by director Ethan Paulini.
And, of course, a superb company of actors sang, pranced and danced about the stage with such infectious enthusiasm, it is doubtful that even the scroogiest of Scrooges left the theater without a smile and a rekindled Christmas spirit.
Leading this merry band of actors is Ira Kramer as Buddy, a member of Santa’s workshop crew who, when he grows to be more than six feet tall, has to come to terms with the idea that he just might not be a real elf.
Kramer— a true theatrical triple threat— makes an adorably nerdy and oversized sprite as he goes in search of his “real” dad. (A brief heads-up here for families with adopted children, who could be confused by this premise.)
A real treat is seeing Bachman, who plays Walter, Buddy’s grouchy, long-lost dad, in his natural musical habitat. Most often found behind the scenes directing MDI High School musicals, Bachman’s powerful presence and baritone has been too long out of the spotlight. With Buddy’s, uh, persistent “help,” the overworked Walter makes a nice transition from a stressed out “money doesn’t grow on Christmas trees!” sort of guy to family guy.
Another delight is Jen Shepard, best known for her unscripted shenanigans at Bar Harbor’s ImprovAcadia. She plays the hectoring manager of the SantaLand department store. Her tiny physical presence looms large in the hilarious first act production number “Sparklejollytwinklejingley.”
Ben Layman, one of Ellsworth’s favorite acting sons, makes the perfect Santa who, thanks to PETA protests, fuels and navigates his sleigh with Christmas spirit and Google Maps rather than reindeer. One only wishes Layman had more songs to sings in this role.
And is there any role A.J. Mooney can’t ace? Last seen as the seductive Mrs. Robinson in PTC’s “The Graduate,” here she plays Deb, Walter’s Mrs. Wiggins-ish, ditzy secretary reminding us that this gal can sing and dance as well as act. Her tapping is off the chain.
Brianne Beck as Walter’s beleaguered wife, Emily, and high school student Nathan Manaker as his other neglected son, Michael, are simply terrific. Their duet “I’ll Believe in You” is a lovely musical interlude.
Grace Livingston Kramer as Jovie, Buddy’s reluctant girlfriend, is yet another star in this bright constellation, and her solo number “Never Fall in Love” is one of the brightest highlights.
Arthur Morrison, another fine character actor, makes the most of his small, unpleasant role as Walter’s demanding boss.
The show also features a darling clutch of kids playing elves and SantaLand shoppers. It looked as if they were having so much fun, it’s a sure bet they inspired many children in the audience to think about joining their schools’ theater programs. This was a preview show, and nerves caused some of the youngsters to speed through their lines or forget to stay in character when the action was elsewhere. This is sure to improve when they have a few more performances under their sparkly little belts.
Has the set been mentioned? Oh my, what a wonderland the Atlanta-based Curley Clay team have pulled off here, with a magnificently decked-out proscenium arch, an icebound Santa’s workshop that seamlessly transforms into a NYC street with all the sparkle, jolly, twinkly, jingly stuff one could ever want. Even the pit orchestra is buried in a snow drift!
PTC has apparently already added extra shows to the Dec. 30 run of “Elf,” since the demand for tickets has been so high. For dates, times and reservations call 942-3333.