PIT & BALCONY • Regional Premier of a Contemporary Holiday Classic

Unleashing the Musical Merriment of ELF!

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, Theatre,   From Issue 922   By: Robert E Martin

25th November, 2021     0

After what has arguably been a difficult year as society recovers and re-adjusts itself amidst the ever changing vagaries of the Pandemic, leave it to Pit & Balcony Community Theatre to set our spirits bright with the regional premier of the ELF: The Musical - an all-together joyous and musically solid production, brightly packaged with cheer and merriment; and a great vehicle for getting into the spirit of the Christmas holiday season.

With performances scheduled for Friday, Saturday & Sunday, December 3-5 & 10-12, a score by Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin and a book adapted by Bob Martin (no relation!)  and Thomas Meehan from the 2003 film, ELF is a musical based on the motion picture of the same name that ran on Broadway in the Christmas seasons of 2010–11 and 2012–13, in the West End of London in the 2015–16 season, and also toured annually in the U.S. during the Christmas holiday season from 2012 to at least 2017.

It tells the tale of Buddy Hobbs, a young orphan child portrayed by Spencer Beyerlein, who mistakenly crawls into Santa Claus’  bag of gifts and is transported back to the North Pole.   After discovering the baby, Santa (played by Bill Kircher) and his elves decide to raise the child as an elf.

Years later, Buddy finds out that he's actually a human and, at Santa's prompting, heads off to New York City  in search of his father, Walter Hobbs, performed by Brian Bateson.  Faced with the harsh reality that Walter is on the naughty list and his son, Michael (Danny Schultz), doesn't even believe in Santa, Buddy is determined to win over his birth family and also help New York City remember the true meaning of Christmas.

Rounding out the cast is Kennedy Danner as Jovie, Ann Russell-Lutenske as Emily, Michelle Zoelner as Deb, along with Ken Herr, Colorgio Romello, Kayla Lingon, Violet Coonan, Alicia Wesson, Samantha Carpenter, Megan Douglas, Megan Whitman, Luke Carpenter, Tara Glassiee and Chis Zoellner.

Featuring Musical Directors James Hohmeyer & Susan Mercy  along with Choreographer Gloria Heye, recently I sat down with Co-Directors Judy Harper & Jeanne Gilbert to discuss the numerous challenges and joys with bringing such an ambitious and festive production to the Pit & Balcony stage.

Considering that ELF is such a newer production, what are some of the qualities it possesses that distinguish it from more traditional holiday fare?

“I would say that the defining quality of ELF is that it is a story of our time,” reflects Jeanne. “Essentially, it is about learning to accept your identity, whatever it may be and in terms of diversity about the fact that because ELF is different than all his friends, and not one of them per se, only underscores how important it is for us to go out into the world as we truly are to be accepted.”

“For me the pivotal idea is that ELF is a story of relationships and how important and necessary those relationships are in our lives,” states Judy. “We all change over the expanse of time in our relationships and often allow the hustle and bustle of our lives to get in the way of spending time with the people we care about, which I feel is an important theme in this narrative.”

In terms of the various themes that percolate throughout ELF like a steaming cup of hot cocoa, each of these co-directors are using their directorial skills like a swirling candy cane to sweeten, refine, and reshape the taste of the mix.

“One of the important themes I’m trying to focus upon is the importance of working on relationships,” notes Jeanne. “Changes that occur within relationships are always very important in any play, as are the changes that occur that cause us to feel a certain way about Christmas every time it rolls around with each different and passing season. Changes are like an arc, as are the ways we can see ourselves evolve in terms of the time we spend together. In that sense I look at this p[lay and it reminds me of a Christmas package that succeeds by the way it connects and changes each of the characters. In that sense it’s like a great big messy Christmas card or a big holiday package that we’re bringing to Saginaw for the audience to unwrap.”

“The cast does a lot to make this happen,” concurs Judy. “They bring an excitement and innocence that are still part of us as adults to the stage, only focus it as a simplified childlike edge that distills that happiness as an edgy enthusiastic energy that spills off the characters onto the stage.”

“A good example is the character of Walter,” she continues. “He is all about his job and has forgotten what it means to have a family. He’s let work become his priority instead of family. His wife tries to point out again and again that he needs to be there for his friends, and how they are not asking for a lot of his time, and she is very good at making him look like he’s in charge, even though she really is and finally manages to navigate him to see what is really important.”

When asked what their biggest challenge is bringing this ambitious musical to the stage, Jeanne references the logistics.  “We have 10 different scenes that need to be realized and changed that we had to establish by using minimal set pieces to render these different locations, which is one of the difficulties. ELF is so popular as a movie that we didn’t want to imitate or duplicate it, but wanted to develop our own rendering. To solve this dilemma we developed a revolving magic door, so every time a scene changes the audience has to go through the revolving magic door, which gives us a method.”

“We are both very excited about this production and think our audiences will be pleased and excie with all the color, costuming, scenery, and magic our crew has created - it is something really festive and something we all need for stoking that Christmas spirit!”

Pit & Balcony Theatre’s regional premier of ELF: The Musical will run from December 3-5 & 10-12th. Friday & Saturday performances are at 7:30 PM; Sunday matinees at 3 PM. Tickets are $20.00 and available at the Pit & Balcony Theatre Box Office, 805 N. Hamilton St., Saginaw; or online by visiting PitandBalconyTheatre.com.





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