PICK! ASR Theater ~~ A Devilishly Good Elf Makes Hillbarn’s “Elf, the Musical” a Don’t Miss Production!

By Joanne Engelhardt

When you have as versatile an actor as Dave J. Abrams playing Buddy the Elf, it’s impossible to go wrong. Director Randy Ohara can justifiably be pleased with his new hit Elf, the Musical, running through Dec. 18 at the Foster City theater.

This young man – locally educated at UC Berkeley – is the real deal. He jumps high, he squeals like a kid, he dances around gracefully and he literally commands the stage whenever he’s on it – which is almost all the time.

”….he’s on the ‘naughty’ list!!”

As director O’Hara says in his director’s notes: “My hope is that you share some laughs and live in the moment with your loved ones, creating holiday memories.” Once he found his Buddy, choosing the rest of his 23-member cast likely came together easily. Several standouts include Jessica Coker as Emily Hobbs, the dynamo mom to impressive young MIchael Hobbs (Josh Parecki). Both Coker and Parecki possess strong voices that are used to good advantage in this fun show.

Walter Hobbs (Brandon Savage) leads the office in a chorus of “Christmas Always Gets in the Way”. Photo Appears Courtesy of Actors Equity Association — Photos by Mark and Tracy Photography

Nadiyah Hollis’ clear vocals are another fine addition to “Elf.” As Macy’s top boss, she’s both commanding and demanding! Russ Bohard’s Santa displays just the right amount of “ho-ho-ho-ness” without becoming cloyingly sweet. But he would have seemed a tad more Santa-like if he looked as if he more enjoyed being around children.

As for Brandon Savage, playing the all-work-and-no-play Macy’s manager Walter Hobbs, he is truly on Santa’s “naughty” list when he tells his employees they’ll have to work late on Christmas Eve – maybe even on Christmas! – because they’re behind in their work. He’s even all-business at home but Buddy teaches him some solid lessons on lovingly taking care of both his business and his family.

Deb (Lindsay Schulz) shows Buddy (Dave J. Abrams*) how to make snow using the shredder. Photo Appears Courtesy of Actors Equity Association — Photos by Mark and Tracy Photography

The sense of child-like wonder Abrams brings to his role is mesmerizing. When his father (Savage) tells him to go get a cup of cocoa and sit quietly in a chair, Buddy squeals with childish delight: “You know what’s even yummier? Hot chocolate with a chocolate bar on top!”

A number of supporting roles deserve mention as well: Lindsay Schulz as Deb is always smiling, dancing, singing – it made this reviewer hope she becomes Buddy’s girlfriend! But that role belongs to Allison J. Parker as Jovie. At first, Parker seems aloof and not at all interested in the persistent Buddy who instantly falls for her and tells her he wants to make all her dreams come true.

But Parker grows on you, and once she relaxes and smiles more, she seems a perfect foil for the mercurial elf. Her powerful vocals are also first-rate.

Meanwhile, high up to one side of the Hillbarn theatre sits musical director Joe Murphy playing drums and conducting a fine-sounding orchestra of about eight musicians.

Jeanne Batacan-Harper does a good job of choreographing her dancers in the somewhat small stage space at Hillbarn. Pam Lampkin and her costumers made cute little elf slippers for all of Santa’s elves – and created their outfits, including a colorful one for Buddy.

Buddy (Dave J. Abrams*) and New York’s out of work Santa’s declare that nobody cares about Santa Claus. Photo Appears Courtesy of Actors Equity Association — Photos by Mark and Tracy Photography

Although the set design is fairly minimal, it works well for quick scene changes with most furniture sliding in and out as the background moves from Santaland, to Macy’s to the Hobbs home, to Central Park in New York.

So, pack up the whole family – kids especially, but aunts, grandparents, friends – and spend a few hours enjoying the wonderfulness of Hillbarn’s Elf, the Musical.


Aisle Seat Executive Reviewer Joanne Engelhardt is a Peninsula theatre writer and critic. She is a voting member of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC). Contact: joanneengelhardt@comcast.net


ProductionElf, the Musical
Songs by

Book by
Tony Award nominees Matthew Sklar & Chad Beguelin.

Tony Award winners, Thomas Meehan & Bob Martin
Directed by
Choreography by
Randy Ohara
Jeanne Batacan-Harper
Producing CompanyHillbarn Theatre
Production DatesThru Dec 18th
Production Address1285 E Hillsdale Blvd, Foster City, CA 94404
Telephone(659) 349-6411
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?Yes!