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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘Elf – The Musical’ spells h-o-l-i-d-a-y f-u-n in Sheboygan

Critic At Large

Sheboygan Theatre Company

Scene from Sheboygan Theater Company production of “Elf – The Musical.” (Warren Gerds screenshot)

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. (WFRV) – The Sheboygan Theatre Company is swinging into the spirit of the holidays with “Elf – The Musical,” a fantasy from the popular movie.

Leading the way in the mixed-age cast is the player who plays the lights out of Buddy, a 6-foot-3 guy who grew up at the North Pole with Santa Claus and his elves.

The family-friendly show continues for four more performances on the unique stage(s) of Leslie W. Johnson Theatre of Horace Mann Middle School.

Grown-up matters are the backstory for Buddy (Noah Verhasselt).

When his mother died when he was an infant, Buddy wound up in Santa’s Christmas goodie bag, which Santa (Steve Meyers) took back home with him. Buddy was raised believing he is an elf. In a slip of the tongue – whoosh – Buddy’s life changes. The show zooms to New York City.

Buddy’s father, who doesn’t know Buddy exists, works in the Empire State Building. Walter Hobbs (Mitch Birkey) is on Santa’s naughty list for being selfish, for starters.

Flashing forward… Buddy winds up working at Macy’s and tipping the world of the gruff Manager (Duncan Doherty), meeting the sad but sweet Jolie (Jennifer Michele) and raising a ruckus over the fake Santa. In the Hobbs home, Buddy meets his stepmother (Claire Heronemus) and stepbrother (Finny Cornielsen), whose needs add meaning to the story.

Director/choreographer Victoria Rae Sook generates a lot of can-do in her cast, with the leads leading the way with their experience and fine points in featured scenes.

Noah Verhasselt is a terrific Buddy, a 30-year-old guy who lives as if he’s an elf – niceness and naïvety pouring from his being, along with bundles of energy and waves of innocence. Noah Verhasselt’s radiance transcends the computer screen, which leads me to this:

The rest of the story

I purchased a ticket to attend the Sunday matinee performance in person. I did not attend because of poor driving conditions – Green Bay to Sheboygan and back. I chose another available option. A performance was recorded and is being streamed until Dec. 14. I purchased that and, after a series of snafus, watched it Monday around noontime.

I ate lunch while watching in my home office – yogurt and a bowl of granola with milk and a sliced banana, if you want to know. Eating while watching is only one difference with attending in person.

My preference is live, in-person performance. There is so much more to it. “Elf – The Musical” gave me a chance to make comparisons.

A recorded stage performance is not a movie. Movies are made in parts, scenes and close-ups and all sorts of stuff patched neatly together. A stage show does all, beginning to end, in one sweeping arc. Scene changes are seen – though some are edited out of this video, as is the intermission.

A movie has lots of camera angles. This video has a few, though no closeups.

Movies have recorded soundtracks. This production has a live orchestra sparking the action and singing from its spot on stage that’s sometimes in a scene shot.

Unlike a movie, this video has audience reaction. One of the microphones is near a woman who chuckles at times. The reaction includes applause, laughter and cheers at the end. The applause sounded like rain coming through my computer. The audience who saw the recorded performance really liked what happened on stage. They “wrote” a review: Thumbs up.

Watching a movie can be a solitary thing, as can be watching this video. But this video has a sense of being in a crowd because so much reaction is heard.

Sophisticated microphones neatly catch the sounds in a movie. This video’s microphones are at a distance, and there’s an echo to the sound. Some sweet singing does come through, though.

Movies spend millions on scenery. This video reveals a community theater budget. The perspective becomes this: What’s most important is the people collaborating to tell a story that, in this case, is both silly and touching.

In movies, actors don’t wear masks because of COVID-19 concerns. In this production, a few youngsters in the cast wear masks.

Because of the pandemic, I have watched a few dozen performances by the talent of Northeastern Wisconsin and have seen productions I ordinarily would not have seen. Recorded streaming or live streaming has become a convenient option because of the circumstances. The future? It’s just that…?

I’m grateful I still could write a review of a show no other troupe in this region is doing and didn’t have to risk driving on slick roadways in snow and wind.

I missed the atmosphere that the troupe’s (school’s) stage creates with its three types of stages, one of which is used to give a sense of skating at a popular New York City rink.

I didn’t miss the white-knuckle drive. Thanks for that, Sheboygan Theatre Company.

***

Running time (streaming): Two hours, 1 minute

Remaining performances: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 9-10; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 11, in person (available streamed)

Info: stcshows.org

Creative: Based on the movie “Elf”: Book – Bob Martin, Thomas Meehan; music – Matthew Sklar; lyrics – Chad Beguelin; director/choreographer – Victoria Rae Sook; music director – Karen Christopherson; stage manager – Jackie Blindauer; scenic designer – Scott Bunyea; lighting designer – Lisa Stewart; co-sound designer – Amanda Ellis, Lee Schneider; costume designer – Bev Dulmes; make-up and hair designer – Candice LaPoint; properties designer – Kim Koeppen; director of photography – Genesee Spridco

Cast:

Buddy – Noah Verhasselt

Jovie – Jennifer Michele

Santa – Steve Meyers

Walter Hobbs – Mitch Birkey

Emily Hobbs – Claire Heronemus

Michael Hobbs – Finny Cornielsen

Deb – Daniele Rammer

Elf, Greenway, Businessman – Nico Torres

Police Officer, Matthews – Kim Xiong

Mrs. Claus, Police Officer, Chadwick – Alisa Roberts

Manager, David – Duncan Doherty

Flyer Guy, Macy’s Santa, Fake Santa – Lucas Detwiler

Flyer Guy, Macy’s Santa, Fake Santa – Michael Stephan

Charlie the Elf, Store Elf, Charlotte, Fake Santa – Abigail Meulbroek

Elf, Customer, Emma, Fake Santa – Rebecca Shvartsman

Elf, Customer, Fake Santa, Crowd – Lilah Hudak

Tiara the Elf, Store Elf, Waitress, Crowd – Annika Diemel

Security Guard, Mother, Fake Santa, Crowd – Ginger Diemel

Security Guard, Jim, Fake Santa, Crowd – Bobbie Norlander

Elf, Son, Fake Santa, Crowd – Kensington Moss

Elf, Narwhal, Fake Santa, Crowd – Sophie Wanta

Elf, Vender, Fake Santa, Crowd – Mickey Cornielsen

Taxi Man, Sam, Fake Santa, Crowd – Nick LaPoint

***

Musical numbers

Act I

Overture – Orchestra

“Christmastown” – Santa, Buddy, Company

“World’s Greatest Dad” — Buddy

“In the Way” – Deb, Walter, Emily, Michael, Company

“Sparklejollytwinklejingley” – Buddy, Store Manager, Company

“I’ll Believe in You” – Michael and Emily

“In the Way” (Reprise) – Emily and Walter

“Just Like Him” – Buddy, Deb, Company

“A Christmas Song” – Buddy, Jovie, Company

“I’ll Believe in You” (Reprise) – Buddy and Company

Act II

Entr’acte – Orchestra

“Nobody Cares About Santa” – Fake Santas, Store Manager, Buddy

“Never Fall in Love” – Jovie

“There Is a Santa Claus” – Michael and Emily

“The Story of Buddy the Elf” – Buddy, Michael, Walter, Emily, Deb, Chadwick, Matthews, Mr. Greenway, Company

“Nobody Cares About Santa” (Reprise) – Santa

“A Christmas Song” (Reprise) – Jovie, Buddy, Emily, Michael, Walter, Company

Finale – Company

***

NEXT: “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” by Christopher Durang, Feb. 18-26.

THE VENUE: The 870-seat Leslie W. Johnson Theatre in Horace Mann Middle School is a one-of-a-kind theater space for Northeastern Wisconsin. Its layout creates special demands that can lead to rewards in unique theatergoing. The spacious facility is in the shape of an amphitheater with steep stairways. The seats are red. The ceiling is high. The front row of seats is on the performance level, which is a half circle. A proscenium (flat front) stage area extends across the rear line of the half circle. The school was built in 1970. The aura of the lobby and theater combined is that of a community gathering place.

THE PEOPLE: Leslie W. Johnson was a Sheboygan superintendent of schools. Horace Mann (1796-1859) was a leader in the development of public education in the United States, including the teaching of teachers.

Copyright 2022 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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