In a Director’s Viewpoint of Arizona Broadway Theatre’s Production of Elf – The Musical

Tyler Pirrung as Buddy in the Arizona Broadway Theatre production of Elf The Musical

History by Wikipedia

Elf is a musical based on the motion picture of the same name, with a score by Bob Martin and Thomas Meehan from the 2003 film. The musical ran on Broadway in the Christmas season of 2010-11 and 2012-13 and also toured the US in 2012. A new tour launched in 2014. After a 2009 workshop, the musical officially opened for a limited holiday engagement at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre on Broadway on November 14, 2010, following previews from Nov. 2, 2010. The final performance took place on January 2, 2011, after a run of 15 previews and 57 regular performances. A Broadway cast recording was released on Nov. 1, 2011.

It had a Broadway revival (2012-13), returning to the Al Hirschfeld for a second holiday season beginning Nov. 9, 2012, on a run through Jan. 6, 2013. This new production featured a revised book and a brand-new opening number, “Happy All the Time.” It also played in a West End London production (2015-16). This show is a classical holiday show for all to enjoy. In 2011, it received a nomination from Drama League Awards as “Distinguished Production of a Musical.” Finally, Elf – The Musical broke records at the Hirschfeld box office three times, grossing over a million dollars in one week.

At this time, before I get into the review, I would like to share some thoughts by ABT’s Director, Michael Whitney.

For inside every drop of water, if you look close enough, you will find an ocean.

“To me any theatre production, film, or piece of fine art allows the viewer to look at their own situation from a third-person perspective to allow for analysis. If you take a moment to look at something that one would deem mundane, I bet you would be able to extrapolate plenty of beauty and or important thoughts from that idea once you take the time to examine it.

“At the start of designing ELF, I looked closely at the source material and asked myself ‘what story did the film capture that allowed ELF to become such a modern classic?’ After examination, I landed on a myriad of themes, but the two that I felt would be most inclusive for our audience was the “Scrooge” element in the story and the “fish out of water” theme that we all know. These human condition stories that have spanned literature became my key to creating not just a fun production with beautiful sets and costumes, but more importantly a piece that audiences could relate to with characters to have empathy for right from the start.

“In discussing all of this with my design team, and in creating a world in which the show would function, it was necessary to build a large and familiar juxtaposition between how Christmas is portrayed in Buddy’s home at the North Pole and that of Christmas in New York City. I ask you what is Christmas really about, and how does “Corporate Christmas” effect the holiday season? This question will help support Walter’s “Scrooge” element and make us re-think what is import about the holidays.

“To help tell Buddy’s ‘fish out of water’ story, it was very important to make New York City feel as real and gritty as possible, the exact opposite of our protagonist’s ‘Christmas Town.’ This would also allow on a technical level for the humor to be heightened as the happy go lucky Buddy tries to navigate the mean streets of New York.

ELF truly has become a modern classic, and I wanted to support this. So in regards to the staging of the production, we designed our world to be as malleable and cinematic as possible. My hope was to create as many locations and moments that we all love and cherish from the film. We do this by using rolling units that can literally dance on and off stage that allow for us to easily tip our hat to the film and create the splashy Broadway show that ELF truly is.

“My hope is that everyone leaving the theatre will not only enjoy the magic and Christmas spirit that was created onstage, but also feel as though they saw themselves within the characters, and have a bit more clarity or insight into what is truly important to them during the holiday season!

“Michael Whitney, Director “

Thank you, Michael, for a most prolific and beautiful explanation or what you wanted to accomplish, you most certainly did everything you spoke about. It was the most entertaining and meaningful holiday performance I have personally seen in a long, long time. Jay Horne

Buddy (Tyler Pirrung) and the Elves in the Arizona Broadway Theatre production of Elf The Musical

At this time, while I catch my breath and before I get into the review of Elf, I would like to express some brief personal thoughts. For many past years that I have reviewed and been part of some Christmas shows, such as A Christmas Carol, White Christmas, etc. I did this in New York, Chicago, New England, and Arizona. Most theatres would constantly repeat the same Christmas show year after year, such as A Christmas Carol. I ask you, my readers, how often can you see the same show so often? For the past 6-1/2 years, I have reviewed ABT shows, they have one thought in mind, and that is to entertain you and make your time spent at the theatre memorable. Finally, this is due to the management, tech, performers, musicians, and directors they put together for each show. This is what real theatre is all about. Thank you on behalf of your audience and myself, for a professional job well done!

As I entered the theatre, the lobby was decorated in a large Christmas tree and decorations. Then they had many of their youth group talent sing holiday songs led by, on piano, Mark 4man, a very talented musical director of ABT. The theme of their show, as one of the musical numbers, was “What Christmas Means to Me.” It was thoroughly enjoyed by all the pre-audience attendees.

As you entered the theatre, you observed a large curtain, decorated beautifully in colorful lettering, etc., to say ELF. This opening night, it was a sold-out audience. There were many attractive, realistic sets that were changed by cast members, drops, and tech crew, all done within the blink of an eye. There were scenes of the North Pole, home of Walter Hobbs, the skating rink in Rockefeller Plaza NYC, the park in NYC, and so many other areas.

Now for a short synopsis of the story of Elf. It starts at the North Pole as Santa Claus tells the story of “Buddy the Elf.” Williams “Buddy” Hobbs, a young orphan child, mistakenly crawls into Santa Claus’s bag of gifts and is transported back to the North Pole. After discovering the baby, Santa and his elves decide to raise the child as an elf. Years later, Buddy finds out that he’s actually a human being and, at Santa’s prompting, heads off to New York City in search of his real father, Walter Hobbs. I leave the rest for future audiences to discover and be amazed, as you will be filled with the Christmas spirit.

Buddy (Tyler Pirrung) and Michael (Tristan Klaphake) enjoy spaghetti for breakfast in the Arizona Broadway Theatre production of Elf The Musical

It is a cast of 16 regular speaking roles and six Ensemble members. The choreography by Kurtis Overby was unbelievably outstanding in every aspect. The character of Buddy, played by Tyler Pirrung, who was a late replacement for the one who was originally cast as Buddy. His performance was worthy of an Academy Award as Best Actor and a Tony Award for Excellence. He led this most talented entire cast!

I usually talk about showstopper numbers. Folks, this entire show was filled with showstopper numbers such as “Happy All the Time,” “I Believe in You,” “Just Like Him,” “A Christmas Song” in Act I. In Act II, “Nobody Cares About Santa,” “Never Fall in Love,” “The Story of Buddy,” and so many more.

The audience had a lot of parents and grandparents with their children. The audience responded with great enthusiasm as to what they were seeing. At my table for a preshow dinner was the Musical Director, Joshua Condon, and his wife, Lexy (short for Alexandria). Joshua had to leave as the show was due to start. They live in Glendale, AZ. At the end of Act I, I asked Lexy what she thought of the show. She said, “it had unbelievable energy, super character portrayals, and I love the unusual and entertaining characterizations by all.”

So now I would like to acknowledge many of the people who made this excellent holiday show the success it was and is!

Rob Watson (Santa / Mr. Greenway) – You can come down my chimney, as usual, a very believable two characterizations.

Tyler Pirrung (Buddy) – You gave one of the best performances I have ever seen, choreography, vocalizations, and fantastic exciting characterization. Welcome back to ABT.

Madison Cichon (Jovie) – Welcome back to ABT. Very good character. Enjoyed your rendition of “Never Fall in Love.”

Bill Saunders (Walter Hobbs) – You were a perfect initial character as Scrooge, very honest character, enjoyed your singing “In the Way.”

Tristan Klaphake (Michael) – You are a true chip off the old block as another very talented Klaphake.

Justin Emmanuel Parker (Store Manager) – Welcome back to ABT. Super job as Store Manager character. Enjoyed your part in “Sparklejollytwinklejinglely”.

Jovie (Madison Cichon) and Buddy (Tyler Pirrung) meet in the Arizona Broadway Theatre production of Elf The Musical

To all the other speaking roles, your characters are well noted very good. As well as to the Ensemble members – Alyssa Ishihara, Delaney Spanko, Erica Wasko, and Brody Wurr – your contribution to Elf was well noted by this audience and myself.

Joshua Condon (Conductor / Keyboard I) – Outstanding direction to your 7-member orchestra on keyboard II, drums, bass, reed 1 & 2, trombone, and trumpet.

Michael Whitney (Director) – A most hearty congratulations on a tremendous job in bringing this outstanding show to the ultimate fruition!

Kurtis Overby (Choreography) – You always to a most professional job, only this time, my dear friend, you reached the heights and beyond of Mt. Everest!

Nate Bertone (Scenic Design) – One of the best realistic set designs that I’ve seen this year. Great job.

Gregg Barnes (Original Costume Design) – Your contribution to this is well noted, great costuming.

Kiel and Cassandra Klaphake (Executive Producer and Casting & Artistic Producer) – A tip of my hat, a deep bow, and a hearty handshake, my dear friends, because of what you both put into these shows, is the reason that ABT is the best professional musical theatre in all of Arizona. The name Arizona Broadway Theatre is so appropriate, you can be an excellent theatre on Broadway NYC. In my humble opinion, thank you on behalf of this audience and myself for another great production.

In a Director’s Viewpoint of Arizona Broadway Theatre’s production of Elf, you are in for one of the most entertaining and amazing holiday shows I have seen in a long time. I highly recommend it for all ages, adults, youngsters, to come to ABT to see what this holiday truly means. In closing, I say “Goodnight, Vivian my love, for no other love have I.”

Jay Horne

REVIEWED: Opening night, November 22, 2019

WHEN: Now through December 29, 2019

WHERE: Arizona Broadway Theatre, 7701 W. Paradise Ln, Peoria AZX 85382

TICKETS: $65+ including dinner; $45+ show only (subject to demand pricing)

DETAIL: Ticket reservations – for information, call the Box Office at 623-776-8400 x0 or visit

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