PCPA’s Elf: The Musical delivers heaps of holiday hilarity

Courtesy photo by Luis Escobar, Reflections Photography Studio
TALL TALE: George Walker (center) plays Buddy, a human raised as an elf in Santa’s workshop at the North Pole, in the Pacific Conservatory Theatre’s new production of Elf: The Musical.

If singing loud for all to hear is truly the best way to spread Christmas cheer, as the 2003 film Elf suggests, each cast member in the Pacific Conservatory Theatre’s (PCPA) latest musical is in a close race to make cheerleading captain.

George Walker leads the ensemble in PCPA’s Elf: The Musical as Buddy the human raised as an elf, who sings the lion’s share of the show’s musical numbers, including “Christmastown,” “World’s Greatest Dad,” and “The Story of Buddy.” But nearly every character—even Buddy’s curmudgeon father, Walter (Andrew Philpot)—gets at least one chance to shine through song in the musical, onstage in Santa Maria’s Marian Theatre through Dec. 23.

Filling Will Ferrell’s iconic elf shoes might seem like a daunting task for some actors, but Walker truly makes the role his own. Even when he leans into Ferrell’s most memorable mannerisms (exclamative deliveries along the lines of “Santa! I know him!” for example) lifted straight from the movie, Walker’s take never feels like a shallow imitation.

click to enlarge PCPA’s Elf: The Musical delivers heaps of holiday hilarity
Courtesy photo by Luis Escobar, Reflections Photography Studio
THE APPLE FELL FAR FROM THE TREE: Walter (Andrew Philpot, left) is at first reluctant to meet his biological son, Buddy the elf (George Walker, right), who journeys to New York City from the North Pole after finding out he’s a human.

The play itself deviates from the movie occasionally in surprising ways, but the film’s general storyline remains intact. Like its source material, the stage adaptation opens with a quick prologue about Buddy, and his earliest days as a human infant who crawled into Santa’s bag one Christmas Eve and hitched a ride to the North Pole via sleigh, unbeknown to its jolly bearded pilot.

While portraying the big man in the boots, Erik Stein adds some occasional improv here and there that’s sure to make local audience members chuckle. We first meet Santa in a cozy living room setting, seated in between a fireplace and television set, where he’s flipping through a stack of children’s books to find Buddy’s tale to read to the audience.

“Nope, not that one. That’s the one they’re doing over at SLO Rep,” Santa says about one of the books he tosses aside.

After landing on the right book centered on Buddy, Santa narrates a bit before we finally meet the adult human elf himself, who towers above his short elf peers (each elf actor’s actual height is concealed as they walk and dance on their knees Lord Farquad style) at Santa’s workshop. 

After Buddy overhears an elf refer to him as a human behind his back, he has a brief emotional crisis before deciding to discover his roots in New York City, where his birth father, Walter, resides. Like his film counterpart (memorably played by James Caan), Walter was unaware of Buddy’s existence before his impromptu visit to the publishing office he works for.

click to enlarge PCPA’s Elf: The Musical delivers heaps of holiday hilarity
Courtesy photo by Luis Escobar, Reflections Photography Studio
GLOBE-TROTTING: Santa Claus (Erik Stein, left) gives Buddy (George Walker, right) a snow globe before he departs for his New York City adventure.

The New York City segments of the play feature the show’s best choreography. Right before ambushing his father at his workplace, Buddy strolls around the city in bright-eyed, fish-out-of-water fashion and hops on a subway—which is cleverly brought to life by the actors themselves, without an actual train car or train station set.

The subway riders hold their hands in the air as if there are support bars above them and sway their bodies back and forth as if the train is constantly halting. 

After getting kicked out of his father’s office, Buddy steps into a Macy’s, whose manager assumes our protagonist is a costumed staff worker sent from corporate to help spruce up the store’s Christmas scenery.

The shop’s festive programming includes an opportunity for kids to visit with Santa—but not the real Santa, of course. Buddy’s hilariously charged reaction to the St. Nick imposter results in the iconic “you sit on a throne of lies” accusation. 

It’s no lie, however, that for Elf fans and newbies alike, seeing Elf: The Musical onstage is a fantastic way to kick off the holiday season.

Arts Editor Caleb Wiseblood, a totally unbiased Elf fanboy, wants an encore. Send stocking stuffers and syrup to [email protected].

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