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Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2008

Magic in Bluesville

Theater Review

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Toward the end of The Happy Elf, Santa tells an unhappy elf boss, "A lot of magic can happen in 60 minutes."

Make that 90 minutes-but audiences young and old will enjoy the magic of the holidays in this world premiere staged by First Stage Children's Theater.

The Happy Elfis based on the 2005 animated TV special, which grew out of a Harry Connick Jr. song. Connick wrote six new songs for the stage version and Andrew Fishman wrote the musical book from his own adaptation. Add in Tony Award-winning director John Rando, as well as an ensemble of Broadway and local actors, and the caliber of talent adds even more magic to this visually fun, fast-paced show.

Eubie, the perpetually happy elf, tries to bring some Christmas magic to the town of Bluesville, whose children are all on the naughty side of Santa's list. If Eubie can make this sad town happy, he might win a chance to ride with Santa on Christmas Eve.

Children of all ages were rapt with attention and delighted throughout thanks to Rando's ability to make any moment visual and kid-friendly amid Connick's blues-inflected musical numbers. What adds to the sheer delight is scenic designer Beowulf Boritt's clever set design (Northstarbucks Coffee, Barnes and Snoble) along with eye-catching special effects amid Jason Fassl's effective use of lighting for the North Pole and Bluesville.

And then there's the cast, which adds some extra shine to the sparkle of The Happy Elf. Jared Gertner is perfectly cast as Eubie, every expression and foible as genuine as a child's letter to St. Nick, and Hannah Laird (Gilda) and Harris Doran (Ham) are well suited as Eubie's sidekicks. Laurie Birmingham does a particularly funny turn as a Bluesvilleian who secretly tries to be happy.

"Think big," Gilda reminds Eubie, and First Stage has done just that with The Happy Elf-and in a very magical way.

The Happy Elfruns through Dec. 24 at The Todd Wehr Theater, located in the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.

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