Nancy Sasso Janis
- Connecticut Critic
- Connecticut Critics Circle
Thomaston, CT - Landmark Community Theatre decided to treat the youngest of theatre patrons to a holiday musical. Harry Connick, Jr.’s ‘The Happy Elf’ opened Thanksgiving weekend and runs through Dec. 11 at the Thomaston Opera House.
James Donohue (who directed ‘Disney’s Mary Poppins’) returns as director of this happy musical and hopes that his audience may “believe in the magic all over again.” In his director’s note, he explains that back in Dec. 2005 Harry Connick, Jr. released a hit 3-D cartoon movie that included his smash hit single “The Happy Elf.” Over the years this was adapted into a full-length musical that reminds us of the true meaning of Christmas. The director writes that the cast and crew have been working tirelessly for the past two months to bring the North Pole to the Thomaston Opera House. During his curtain speech, he pointed out a balloon arrangement that was sent to the cast by none other than Harry Connick, Jr.
In this colorful musical, young Eubie (nicely played by Gilbert School senior Nick Komons) is indeed the happiest elf in the North Pole. He longs to be a part of Santa’s select sleigh team who get to ride along on Christmas Eve. Instead, he’s relegated by head elf Norbert to checking the naughty-or-nice lists. One Christmas Eve, he notices that in the whole town of the aptly-named Bluesville, not a single person has been nice. With a bit of elfish magic and a magical whoosh of shiny confetti, Eubie’s off to the dreary Bluesville. But will be able to turn a whole town of naughty children nice in just one day?
Grace Altenburger (she of Blessed Sacrament School Children’s Theatre and Seven Angels) was so convincing as Molly, the young Bluesville resident who has been on the naughty list for 12 years running, that some young patrons immediately disliked her. Joshua Viltrakis (NTT’s ‘Guys and Dolls’) was at his comic best as sleigh mechanic Hamm and Northwestern HS grad CJ Barber was just as good as Gilda; she sang beautifully in spite of her elf’s extensive allergies. The “Two Scoops of Christmas” trio of featured elves was a musical highlight.
Payton Turpin (‘Ring of Fire’) returned to the TOH stage to play Santa and WAMS library science teacher Doreen Lopez watched his diet as his devoted Mrs. Claus. Steve Sorriero did well as the busy mayor of Bluesville, while the spectacular Ashley McLeod was perfect as his unhappy wife Gurt. WAMS sixth grader Ethan Wollman played Molly’s handler Curtis and Sara Wilson (in her Landmark debut) was memorable as an angry Bluesville resident and a coppa. Julia Mehlin (Horton in BSS’ ‘Seussical’) and Nicholas Santovasi (‘Music Man’ by Whimsicality) were featured as factory workers at the What Factory and the dancing Elfettes were Mickey Cashman, Samantha Greenslate, Angel Santiago and Ashley Valerio. The fine ensemble was made up of community theatre veterans of all ages.
Chuck Stango was back on the Thomaston Opera House stage to play the cranky Norbert, and of course, he nailed the comedy in the role. So convincing was he that during an applause break in his song, a young man seated behind me decided to yell out “We’re not clapping for you!” Mr. Stango heard it but did not break character. On social media he took it as a sign that he had arrived as a children’s show stage villain. And I cannot forget Brady McKenna as his Little Norbert.
The book was written by Lauren Gunderson and Andrew Fishman. The score by Harry Connick, Jr. qualifies as jazz in nature and the Landmark orchestra played it masterfully. Matt Albert, who had lots to do on the upright bass, and drummer Don Amodio wore matching Darth Vader Christmas sweaters. James Luurtsema on trombone sat next to Marc Levandowski on trumpet and both wore Christmas sweaters that lit up. Shannon Copeland on reeds sat near music director Holly McCann on keyboards, and Juan Cardona, Jr. played the massive theatre organ.
Stage manager Debbie Cashman put together a fabulous collection of colorful holiday costumes for this production. Jennifer Checovetes served as choreographer and NTT’s Lindsey Rosa and Ash Royer shared the assistant stage manager duties. Alex Dunn was the tech director and Dan Checovetes was in charge of lighting design. The set was designed by David Verdosci and Joe McCann was the sound engineer.
The Sunday matinee was the third holiday production that I had attended in three days and it was by far the one that had the most well-dressed children in the audience. Perhaps their grownups had read the flyer that was distributed at area elementary schools that offered a discount for tickets for families. They all seemed to enjoy everything about this production and many clamored to get their photo taken with the actors after the curtain call.
Lisa Reardon, the owner of Lisa Cherie Photography, was honored in the Volunteer Spotlight with this production. Remaining performances of ‘The Happy Elf’ are December 2, 3, 9, 10 @ 7pm and December 4, 11 @ 2pm SPECIAL RATE: Family 4 pack of tickets & a family photo with Santa for only $60. Visit www.landmarkcommunitytheatre.org for more info.
Pictured: (Left to right) Josh Viltrakis as "Hamm," Nick Komons as "Eubie," and CJ Barber as "Gilda." Photo credit: Lisa Cherie Photography