Right now on Amazon the DVD of Elf is £4. Let’s take a bog standard nuclear family – 2 parents, 2 kids. That’s a quid each to watchElf. It’s a funny film. Will Ferrell is funny. I’d pay a quid to watch it, might even fork out for a packet of Doritos.
Right now on the Dominion’s website, the lowest price you can pay to see Elf The Musical is £30. The max? £267.50. So for that same family, possibly a bit more impecunious at Christmas, the minimum they’ll be paying is £120, the highest just over a grand, which doesn’t factor in travel costs, ice creams at the interval, ‘Souvenir Brochures’ and novelty Elf hats for £3 a pop.
So, for a Christmas show based on a children’s movie, whose bright marketing colours are clearly designed to attract kids who pester their parents, asking families to spend that huge amount of money has to be really well justified. There’s got to be a really good reason for seeing the stage version over the film.
These are the advantages a live musical COULD have over film: the live music, obviously; the choreography; the set; the performances; the atmosphere. Well Matthew Sklar’s music is the blandest big band swing, with a few jingling bells thrown in. The choreography is all chorus lines and high kicks – safe, uninteresting, bland. The set is mainly a projected backdrop with blocky and – yes – bland animations. Of course, this is a West End musical so Santa’s sleigh tentatively judders out over the audience as a showstopping climax.
The performances are generally very good, particularly Jennie Dale as put-upon secretary Deb. Ben Forster, who won ITV’s Superstar competition in 2012 and then had to play Jesus in Lloyd-Webber’s rock opera, is also pretty good, nails most of the funny lines and sings brilliantly. But he still isn’t as funny as Will Ferrell. Ex-Girls Aloud member Kimberley Walsh plays a character who doesn’t like to sing, so it’s kind of difficult to judge her singing ability, but her final number is quite heartwarming.
So that just leaves atmosphere. Well it’s very Christmassy, I’ll grant that. Chris Rea plays over the speakers. There are hordes of children getting shoutily into the Christmas spirit. The Dominion is looking swish after its big refurbishment. But that just isn’t enough. If you want Elf, watch the film. If you want a decent West End musical, watch Matilda.
This musical version offers so little that the film doesn’t already have. All the funny lines are borrowed from the film. A dig at New Jersey and a couple of other Americano-centric jokes bomb. No attempt’s been made to tailor this to a UK audience, and that’s emblematic of the production as a whole: it’s perfunctory, a show devoid of imagination, and by failing to offer anything to the audience except over-priced Revels it all seems depressingly cynical, a show that doesn’t seem to care about fleecing families out of their Christmas cash, a show that doesn’t justify itself and certainly doesn’t justify its ticket prices.
And that is completely at odds with the ‘Christmas spirit’ plot, a story that’s about giving gifts that money can’t buy. Buddy and friends try to get a cynical world to believe in Father Christmas again. If someone had given me the ticket as a gift, far from encouraging me to believe in Santa, it would have been the final nail in his tinselly coffin.