Theater Info for the Washington DC region

Adventure Theatre The Happy Elf

By • Nov 23rd, 2010 • Category: Reviews
The Happy Elf
Montgomery College & Adventure Theatre
Robert E. Parilla Performing Arts Center, Rockville, MD
Through November 28th
$20/$15 Seniors and Students
Reviewed November 20th, 2010

Looking at the amazing credentials of the people involved and walking in and seeing the professional-quality set, the expectation for The Happy Elf is excellence. Unfortunately, this production is merely pleasant. The many youngsters may not have minded that it was merely pleasant, but it may certainly be disappointing to the more discerning patrons who footed the bill expecting greatness.

The show itself is merely pleasant. The tunes are pleasing, but within a short time afterwards it is hard to remember any of the tunes. None of the music stands out or gets stuck in your head in the way that great catchy scores should and do. The script is cute and has several moments that make you smile, but nothing is incredibly original.

In the lead role of Eubie, Clint Johnson is also merely pleasant. He has a pleasing voice and a comfortable style, but his performance is not the kind that blows you away. As Norbert, Michael Rupert is very good and his number “Magic Hat” gives an inkling of why he is a Tony-winning actor, but, overall, the role itself does not give him any opportunities to truly deliver on that promise.

The real gem of the production is Valerie Issembert as Molly. She has an amazing realism on stage, and you never once feel like she is “acting.” She finds a way to wear Molly’s heart on her sleeve in a touching and compelling way without ever appearing to try too hard. She brings brilliance to the production.

Also notable is Zack Colonna as Curtis. His comedic timing is spot-on, and he creates a great character. Solid and entertaining performances also come from Tina Ghandchilar (Gilda), Jobari Parker-Namdar (Hamm), and Nova Y. Payton (Mrs. Clause/Gurt).

The ensemble was, like the leads, merely pleasant. The energy was decent, but it didn’t have that over-the-top quality of a good, energy-filled children’s production. The choreography was good, and the dancing of all the leads and ensemble was clean.

The biggest disappoint was Elliot Dash (Santa/Mayor/Coppa). There was little distinction between his three roles, and, although he had a gorgeous and soulful voice, his lackluster energy dragged down all of his numbers. Santa should have been the biggest source of joy, and, instead, he just seemed bored.

Another issue was the sound system. At times the microphones distorted the voices with a slight feedback, especially when someone was talking quickly, and many lines, especially early in the show, were difficult to understand. The special effect of the elves disappearing was also very sloppily done.

On the positive side, the set and lighting were wonderful. The unit set quickly and beautifully changed between the two locations, and lighting set the mood and tone for each scene. Costumes and props were also extremely well-done so that everything looked beautiful.

This was an 11am performance, so maybe the cast was just tired, but the mark of true professionalism is when the 11am show is just as good as the 7pm show. Overall, the only way to describe the production remains as merely pleasant, but it is not something to run out and see.

The Happy Elf Creative Staff

  • Music and Lyrics by Harry Connick, Jr.
  • Book by Lauren Gunderson & Andrew Fishman
  • Directed by John Rando
  • Music Director: Darius Smith
  • Choreographer: Mark Minnick
  • Set Designer: Beowulf Borritt
  • Costume Designer: Peter J. Zakutansky
  • Lighting Designer: Andrew R. Cissna
  • Sound Designer: Veronika Vorel
  • Props Designer: R. Scott Hengen
  • Technical Director: Roger Bridges
  • Stage Manager: Roy A. Gross
  • Production Manager: Colin Grube

Cast (in Alphabetical Order)

  • Ensemble: Ally Barrale
  • Candy Elf/Ensemble: Carolyn Caton
  • Curtis: Zack Colonna
  • Gurt u/s: Priscilla Cuellar
  • Santa/Mayor/Coppa: Elliot Dash
  • Gilda: Tina Ghandchilar
  • Molly: Valerie Issembert
  • Eubie: Clint Johnson
  • Male Swing: Hunter M.A. Kieserman
  • Angry Lady/Ensemble: Melanie Kurstin
  • Boris/Ensemble: Neel Madan
  • Male Ensemble Swing: Jonathan E. Miot
  • Worker 2/Raccoon: Noah Mitchel
  • Hamm: Jobari Parker-Namdar
  • Mrs. Clause/Gurt: Nova Y. Payton
  • Norbert: Michael Rupert
  • Ensemble: Madeleine Schinosi
  • Female Ensemble Swing/Dance Captain: Grace Sicard
  • Reindeer Elf/Ensemble: David Benji Weiner
  • Worker 1, Toy Elf: Carl Williams


  • Orchestrations: Harry Connick, Jr.
  • Horn Orchestrator: Geoffrey Burke
  • Stage Manager: Roy A. Gross
  • Technical Director: Roger Bridges
  • Production Manager: Colin Grube
  • Asst. Director: Kristen Pilgrim
  • Asst. Stage Manager: Ren Paige
  • Asst. Stage Manager: George A. Redner
  • Asst. Stage Manager: Paula Fritz
  • Master Electrician/Light Board Operator: Cindy King
  • Sound Board Operator: Daniel Chessen
  • Asst. Sound Operator: Laura Gordon
  • Wardrobe Supervisor: Alison Gale
  • Follow Spot Operator: Lillie Kahkonen
  • Fly Operator: Helen Garcia-Alton
  • Paint Crew: Ren Paige
  • Paint Crew: George Redner
  • Paint Crew: Paula Fritz
  • Paint Crew: Nadia Mohebban
  • Theatre Technician: Dennis Mulligan
  • Carpentry/Run Crew: Greg Condon
  • Carpentry Crew: Dennis Kelner
  • Carpentry Crew: Taylor Stemerman
  • Carpentry/Follow Spot: Marty Speiser
  • Light Crew: Lillie Kahkonen
  • Light Crew: Helen Garcia-Alton
  • Costumiere: Emilie Long
  • Costume Crew: Catherine Ejiogu
  • Sound Crew: Taylor Payne
  • Costume Crew: Jenny Eyer
  • Costume Crew: Julie Havens
  • Costume Crew: Staci Most
  • Costume Crew: Rob Marshall
  • Scenic Charge Artist: Marisa “Za” Johns
  • Asst. Charge Artist: Beau Hamilton
  • Dept. Administrative Aide: Helen Friedkin


  • Piano/Conductor: Darius Smith
  • Bass: Eric Wheeler
  • Drums: CV Dashiell, III
  • Drums: Jon Laine
  • Reeds: Brent Birckhead
  • Reeds: Ben Bokor
  • Reeds: Ashton Vines

Disclaimer: Montgomery College & Adventure Theatre provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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has been involved in theatre in the state of Maryland and DC for most of her life. She has acted, directed, choreographed, stage managed, and held a million other odd jobs. She has a B.S. in English from Towson University, and is currently pursuing her Master's Degree to become a Reading Specialist. She is a Maryland State Certified English, Theatre, Elementary, and Mathematics Educator. After teaching English and Drama for many years, she now teaches 6th grade Language Arts at Magnolia Middle School in Harford County, Maryland. She wrote the curriculum currently used in Prince George’s County Public Schools for Drama I and Drama II. She now writes and directs plays and musical for use in church.

One Response »

  1. I too was deeply dissapointed with this show. The lackluster score and book left much to be desired. I agree with almost everything in this review, especially that the set was the highpoint of the production. I too thought that the actor playing Santa seemed bored, as well as a good amount of the ensemble who at times seemed lost and lacking in energy and stage presence. Zach Colonna as Curtis deffiantely gave the stand out performance of the evening leaving the audience roaring with laughter with his great energy and line delivery, the racoon also had several funny scenes and the puppetry was executed in a very belivable fashion. I thought the tickets were overpiced given the quality of the show, when I have attended better shows for Montgomery College’s regular season for half the price and left much happier, their recent production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee was very well executed in all aspects and was a much more enjoyable night at the theatre.