It’s no secret that I’m a Christmas fanatic.
I love everything about the season to be jolly from wrapping up warm and sipping mulled wine to binge-watching festive films from underneath a blanket. But not everyone around me agrees that late November is the optimum time for festivities to begin and, at my house, there’s an embargo on Christmas trees, tinsel and festive goings-on until December 1 (I know, right? Humbug much?).
One of these goings-on is my annual viewing of the 2003 comedy film Elf staring Will Ferrell and Zooey Deschanel. Much like that first bite of a coconut macaroon from Manchester Christmas Markets, Elf puts me right in the yuletide spirit and I’ll watch it a few more times in the countdown to the big day (along with The Muppet Christmas Carol). If you’re not a Christmas person, I’m essentially your worst nightmare.
This year, I’ve been lucky enough to sneak in some pre-Christmas joy without summoning the wrath of The Grinch. Back in October, I was able to commence my Elf mania a little earlier than usual when I headed to Hamleys at Manchester’s intu Trafford Centre for the launch of Elf: The Musical, which began its seven-week run at Salford’s Lowry theatre last week. It was clear from the event – and the ticket sales – that expectations were high. Originally produced on Broadway in 2011, this is the first time Elf: The Musical has toured up north and, after receiving rave reviews on the West End, the anticipation is palatable as we find our seats in the theatre.
But the team at The Lowry needn’t have worried. The show is a resounding success and filled from start to finish with more festive feels and fun than you can shake a rope of tinsel at. I was already hyped-up from a day spent quaffing Christmas drinks and sourcing presents, so the show was the icing (and cherry) on my Chrimbo cake.
Produced by theatre legend Michael Rose (the brains behind 75 productions in the past 34 years), he credits the show as helping him to “fall back in love with show business again” and it’s easy to see why. It’s a sweet, life-affirming tale which leaves you beaming from ear to ear.
Ben Forster reprises his West End role as Buddy – an oversized elf with terrible toy-making skills and an unusually low octave – who doesn’t realise he’s a human accidentally brought back to the North Pole and raised by Santa and his elves. From the amusing opening scene, Forster is hilarious and his performance throughout is consistently wonderful.
Despite being part of a stellar ensemble, he’s the stand-out star of the show – his voice is phenomenal and his comic timing is on point – as the jovial, innocent elf who learns about his true origins from Santa (played by Louis Emerick) and the identity of a father who, not only doesn’t know he exists, but lives in New York and is – shock horror – on the naughty list.
For fans of the film, the storyline is a little different which not only ensures a smooth transition to the stage, but makes it more relatable to a UK audience. But don’t fret – all your favourite lines and silliness are still included from Mr Narwhal, that scrap with a department store Santa and the biggest belch I’ve ever heard.
And, of course, Buddy finds love along the way in the form of sarcastic and jaded Jovie, played brilliantly by Atomic Kitten’s Liz McClarnon. Not only is McClarnon funny, dropping great one-liners, but her voice is stunning as she belts out tune after tune.
And, oh, the music. The score is something special and the songs are catchy with just the right amount of poignancy and silliness. They stay with you long after the show – I found myself humming along on the walk back from Stockport train station.
The entire cast give it their all. From Buddy’s half-brother Michael and his step-mother Emily (Jessica Martin) to the dancers, festive staff at Macy’s and office workers at Greenways, each character is well thought-out and excellently played.
Joe McGann is great as Buddy’s gruff long-lost father who momentarily loses site of what’s important in life, before Buddy eventually wins over his family and reminds them of the true meaning of Christmas.
My favourite performance of the evening has to be Lori Haley Fox as Deb – watch out for her brilliant asides and hilarious lines. She had me belly laughing.
Without wanting to give away any surprises, because the beauty of this show is in its magic, it would be remiss of me not to mention the astonishing set. The creative team have done a sterling job at translating the magic of Christmas – and the movie – to the stage and it is truly spectacular. It even made me feel a little teary.
I can’t recommend this show highly enough. It’s the perfect outing for both children and adults, teetering between being appropriately funny enough for kids and sneakily hilarious for grown-ups. I defy the grumpiest of Christmas haters to say they didn’t let out a giggle or two.
During the tram journey home after the show, a group of girls start messing about. “I’m on a tram and I’m singing,” one girl screeches and there’s collective laughter throughout the carriage. It’s just like the show says, “the best way to spread Christmas cheer, is singing loudly for all to hear”. Well, until we hit Peter Street, that is, and everyone looks at them like they’ve had too much festive spirit.
So, whether you like it or not, it’s most certainly beginning to look at lot like Christmas at The Lowry. And I’m pretty chuffed about that.
Elf the Musical is at The Lowry in Salford until January 14, 2018. For more information, click here.