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Theater Review, Elf: The Musical at Toby's Dinner Theater

The spirit of Christmas was alive and well Saturday, July 4th, at Toby's Dinner Theatre in Columbia, MD. The venue is currently hosting Elf: The Musical based on the same-titled 2003 Christmas classic film starring Will Ferrell. Elf: The Musical is the hilarious tale of Buddy, a young orphan who mistakenly crawls into Santa's bag of gifts and is transported back to the North Pole and becomes one of Santa's elves.

Unaware that he is human, Buddy's size and poor toy-making abilities cause him to face the inevitable truth. With Santa's permission, Buddy embarks on a journey to New York City to find his birth father, discover his true identity, and help New York remember the true meaning of Christmas. This modern-day holiday classic is sure to make everyone embrace their inner Elf.

Mark Minnick serves as director and choreographer for this off-Broadway adaptation. In July 2021, the musical festivities of Christmas begin with an "Overture" and transition into "Happy All the Time." Santa (DeCarlo Raspberry) performed the opening vocal number, Buddy (Jeffrey Shankle), and the ensemble. It's a perfect start to the play, and the yuletide mood was felt all around the audience as there were numerous smiles seen.

In our lead role of Buddy, actor Jeffrey Shankle makes the role his own by avoiding a Will Ferrell imitation. Shankle sings his opening solo number "World's Greatest Dad" with innocence and natural charm, which you can't help but root for him as he journeys to find his birth dad. Shankle effortlessly steers the ship along for the duration of the play through concrete chemistry with his fellow castmates.

The chemistry is also evident when Shankle's Buddy interacts with DeCarlo Raspberry, who assumes numerous roles throughout the play as Santa Claus and the store manager. Both of Raspberry's characters have different communication styles in their dabblings with Buddy, and it was great to see Shankle play off of both Raspberry's characters. I also enjoyed the arc for Buddy and Jovie's relationship, which came across as natural.

Finally, the play also handled the relationship between Buddy, his dad Walter (David Bosley-Reynolds), stepbrother Michael (Luka Van Herksen), and stepmother Emily (Janine Sunday) with care. The script for Elf: The Musical never allows the relationship of Buddy and the Hobbs family to fall into any overly sappy material.

Two things, in particular, made Elf: The Musical into a joyous night overall. The first is Mark Minnick's casting decision of a black Mr. and Mrs. Claus. It was a great thing for my inner black boy to see. Secondly, the performance of "Nobody Cares About Santa" is worth the price of admission alone.

Before the show began, Toby's provided patrons with a tasty buffet. The venue well organized the line, and COVID precautions were in effect with gloves were provided to patrons, and the were servers in masks. As a bonus, the waiter who served my family happened to be the one and only Jeffrey Shankle, who briefly engaged in a friendly conversation with us.

Elf: The Musical at Toby's Dinner Theatre makes for a great family night out. My family had a wonderful time on our first visit to Toby's, but it will not be the last.

Final Grade A

Elf: The Musical runs through August 22nd.


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