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TO SEE OR NOT TO SEE: “A Civil War Christmas” & “Elf”

December 5th, 2012

Every first Wednesday of the month, get caught up with what’s on stage with our review round-up. And that vaguely hollow, clinking sound you hear at the end of each segment? That’s me tossing in my two cents. This month, we look at two very different holiday musicals…

The cast of "A Civil War Christmas". Photo by Carol Rosegg.


Pulitzer-winning playwright Paula Vogel weaves together multiple stories and classic carols in her vision of Washington, D.C. on Christmas Eve, 1864.

“Written with an embracing expansiveness by Ms. Vogel…and featuring handsomely sung hymns and carols of the period, this unusual holiday pageant represents an illuminating alternative to the often garish or sentimental holiday fare foisted on theater audiences.” New York Times

“…endearing, occasionally trying play…” New York Post

“…Landau’s staging is mostly taut and uncluttered. It’s amazing what she can do with a handful of chairs and a bunch of stovepipe hats…” Entertainment Weekly

Mizer’s Two Cents: Intelligent, respectful and a bit overstuffed, this pageant — or better yet panorama — provides a serious-minded and ultimately moving antidote to the silvery tinsel of much holiday fare.  With so many characters and styles to introduce, the play takes time to gain forward momentum (it is not for those with itchy attention spans), but once the multiple strands begin to intersect there are many lovely pleasures to be found. Chief among these tastefully wrapped gifts are a “wow, did that really happen” sense of history (Lincoln on a midnight ride for a Christmas gift facing assassins!?), sweetly sung traditionals, inventive story-theater staging and a talented ensemble of actors skillfully playing multiple roles as well as musical instruments (including a commanding Sean Allan Krill, a vibrant Jonathan-David and a clarion-voiced Amber Iman.)

Jordan Gelber in "Elf". Photo by Joan Marcus.


The musical adaptation of the Will Ferrell comedy — about a human raised as one of Santa’s elves — returns to Broadway for a festive holiday engagement.

“…the show does have just enough nice supporting performances and successful comic moments to amuse easily amused kiddies and leave grown-up ticket buyers grumbling no more loudly than they would after any of the other holiday shows.” New York Times

“Zippier and funnier, the show is now a bona fide treat.” New York Post 

Elf won’t change your life, but it will brighten your holiday season a little bit.” Entertainment Weekly

Mizer’s Two Cents:  Bright and brimming with bouncy rhymes, this stage adaptation zips like Santa’s sleigh over the movie’s plot points. The audience I saw it with laughed and applauded joyfully so how could I be a scrooge (my last name notwithstanding) and pick on lapses in dramatic logic. It works best when thought of as a familiar storybook brought to life, each page skipping forward to another joke or snowy tableau.  Big pluses:  a game cast (particularly Beth Leavel tearing into her standard Mom role as if it were instead a grand heroine of musical comedy), and some zippy numbers (I loved the bite of the Act 2 Santas in a Chinese Restaurant bit).  See it if you love the movie’s plot or need a Broadway show suitable for most of the family.

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