If you're feeling a little light in the Christmas spirit department then Elf: The Musical should put a spring in your step. Keen to get into the festive swing that only theatre season can bring, we visited The Lowry for the opening night and came home full of the sparklejollytwinkejingley-ness.
The stage adaptation of Will Ferrell's adored Christmas comedy Elf does not disappoint. And after a record-breaking run in the West End it is taking the traditional panto slot at The Lowry for 2017.
For those not familiar with the 2003 film here's a little scene setting. After inadvertently wreaking havoc in the North Pole with his elf brothers and sisters (played excellently) and less than elf-standard toy production, Buddy heads to New York in search of his family and to restore Christmas spirit with the people he meets.
Young and old awaited the rising of the safety curtain as Louis Emerick took to the stage as Santa Claus to tell the tale of a young elf called Buddy. Immediately the context was set as Santa struggled to catch the Liverpool game on his television in the North Pole and settled on reading the audience a tale of love and fun and magic.
Much-loved for playing Mick Johnson in Brookie (said with appropriate accent) Emerick plays both Santa and Mr Greenway, switching characters with ease and some very swift wardrobe changes. In true panto style, he is among a few names non-theatre- goers will recognise from the cast, alongside Joe McGann and Liz McClarnon.
Playing The Grinch-esque dad, Mr Hobbs, Joe McGann's theatre credits extend further than I expect. My long-lasting memory is of Charlie Burrows in The Upper Hand with Honor Blackman but his theatre credits outweigh this as I indulge in a read of my souvenir brochure during the interval and it shows in stage presence. Liz McClarnon plays Jovie, Buddy's love interest. Known for her bubbly personality and being part of Atomic Kitten, her solos are full of emotion and power and her on-stage relationship goes beyond make-believe.
And now for Buddy, played by Superstar Ben Forster. The whole audience fell in love with him at first scene, his silliness and his seriousness. People around me snorted with glee at his scenes and were captivated by his voice when he sang. He definitely found his inner elf. The chemistry of the cast seemed to be effortless - apologies to everyone that I cannot mention you. You have all helped to instil a whole auditorium full of Christmas spirit judging by the applause at the end. I do however have to say to Deb, Mr Hobbs', played by Lori Haley Fox, the whole audience was with you for the Chocolate monster.
I am not a theatre critic and do not profess to be one. I am writing this as a thirty-something who likes to be entertained, enjoys the theatre and yes, needed a little sparklejollytwinklejingley-ness. I can tell you it was one heck of a show and I would recommend it with gusto.
I know I have waxed lyrical for too long now but I have to mention the team behind the curtain. Producer Michael Rosen was ready to give up showbusiness until Elf came along, made him fall in love with Buddy and back in love with the industry, thanks to the writers, Broadway legend Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin and the score and lyrics by Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin.
Elf: The Musical, for me, was like the DreamWorks films used to be - they worked on all levels. The kids adored the characters and joined in whenever they could. The adults (and the big kids) enjoyed a series of perfectly placed one liners and references that raised the roof. Even Gregg's got a mention and lots of '... snow!'
The box office from the first night was donated by the producer to Care after Combat, which provides professional assistance for the well-being of veterans and their family.