A Predictable, Playful Formula: ‘Elf the Musical’ at the Ordway
Words by Alejandra Iannone | Images by Joan Marcus
I’d like to start with a few disclaimers.
1). I love the movie Elf.
2). It’s been some time since I saw a musical.
3). These past few days, I have been grumpy. Maybe it’s the shorter days? Dropping temperatures? Perhaps I’ve transformed into a grinch?
So, as I made my way into the Ordway Center for Performing Arts on Friday, December 7th, I thought that Elf the Musical, of all musicals, might be just the thing I needed.
As one might expect from a blockbuster production like this one, Elf had a lot going on. A huge, multi-talented cast of performers. Tons of scenic elements and props. A flying sleigh. And more costume changes than I could count.
I’m going to focus this response on the dance.
Sure, the choreography was eye-catching, even fun, in doses. But, I was looking forward to something a bit more inventive, I suppose. Does cookie cutter sell that much better?
Take the elven kick line at the very top of Act One. What a fun idea! The dancers traveled on their knees while wearing costume pieces that looked like pointy elf shoes. Here was a curious stage illusion and choreographic idea with potential that was abandoned after only a few moments, then briefly reintroduced later during a “tap” number. During this later sequence, the dancers performed movements reminiscent of soft shoe accompanied by the recorded sounds of tap shoes. The choice to use recorded tap sounds didn’t work for me. To be clear, the dancers weren’t tapping. It was like lip-synching…but with feet.
Sure, dancing on one’s knees for an extended period of time over an eight-show week isn’t super sustainable. Of course, neither are tumbling passes and 2.5 hours of grand battements with only the right leg. To quote another musical and flip it on its head, when it comes to Elf, my general reaction was, “Looks, 10. Dance, 3.”