All about joy: ‘Elf The Musical’ choreographer Liam Steel

Elf - the musical
Nicholas Pound as Santa in 'Elf'. Photo by Mark Senior.

Elf, the beloved Christmas film from 2003, morphed into a musical on Broadway and in the West End twice before – and is back this winter to delight audiences in London, with its feel-good message and holiday cheer. Dance Informa caught up with choreographer Liam Steel to talk about how musicals are reaching new audiences, how he sees the human in the dancer and what it’s like to work on a show all about joy.

Georgina Castle as Jovie in 'Elf'.
Georgina Castle as Jovie in ‘Elf’. Photo by Mark Senior.

Elf is a very popular film. Is the musical seeing that same popularity?

“Yes. It’s amazing because it’s not your normal musical theatre-going audience. There are a lot of men, and a lot of families obviously, but there are a lot of guys in their Elf t-shirts and their pint of lager, watching, because they love the film. It is amazing on that level – that it attracts a whole different audience to a musical that you would never normally see. It epitomizes Christmas for them.”

Steel comes from an acting and directorial background but has found a niche in and love of reinventing shows and creating new ones with less traditional movement. He favours focusing on the ideas behind the movement as motivation, verses simply creating a series of steps.

Can you share a bit about how you approach ideas of movement in musical theatre and what excites you about it?

Choreographer Liam Steel
Choreographer Liam Steel. Photo courtesy of Steel.

“My journey in musical theatre is an attempt to do things that need reinventing, new musicals or things that need reimagining. What I’m interested in is actually where it’s about the ideas behind the dance, as opposed to just creating the steps. I think audiences are expecting more. What’s the point in regurgitating the same old thing?”

In that regard, Steel is the perfect choice to take on this new iteration of the show.

What’s different about this version of the show? Have you made any significant changes?

“Last year, we did a new version of it. I did completely new choreography for that, and we did new dance arrangements. I didn’t look at the original because you don’t want to be influenced by someone else’s work. The piece that was done last year, we’re now reviving. But even now, I’m pitching to change things and rework things. It’s also a different cast. And I’m a great believer in working with the people who are in front of me…so, different body types, different shapes, different ages – different people move differently. To just impose the same movement of those people wouldn’t work. I always start with the people in front of me. What’s their skill set, and how do we work from there?”

Coming from a background filled with more dramatic, intense storytelling in acting and movement, this show is one of the first times Steel has worked on a show that’s primarily about joy.

Rebecca Lock as Emily Hobbs in 'Elf'
Rebecca Lock as Emily Hobbs in ‘Elf’. Photo by Mark Senior.

Compared to the tone of the work you’ve done in the past, and the kind of work you typically do, what was it like to take on a more lighthearted topic?

“The overriding thing is that you want to give the people a good time. They come to see the show to have a good time! Ultimately, it’s a Christmas show where you want to send people home with a smile on their face. I know what the feeling of this is. Let’s find steps that liberate that feeling, that emulate that feeling.”

For audiences, the opportunity to feel these joyful feelings with descend on London this winter. Undoubtably, with the experience of all those involved, it’s sure to be a good time.

For tickets and more information about Elf the Musical at Dominion Theatre, visit

By Emily Sarkissian of Dance Informa.

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