YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Like the movie on which it is based, “Elf, the Musical” is an instant classic.
The story of one of Santa’s elves who goes on a journey of self-discovery, it’s a heartwarming tale that is familiar but fresh, and very family-friendly.
The Youngstown Playhouse will bring the musical to its stage for six performances Dec. 3-12.
Anyone who has seen the 2003 movie starring Will Ferrell – and that’s just about everyone – knows the plot.
Buddy, a human who was raised as one of Santa’s elves, heads to New York to learn his true identity.
A true believer in a cynical world, the child-like Buddy struggles but wins out in the end.
Nathan Beagle, who is directing the Playhouse production, calls “Elf, the Musical” a heartwarming story.
“It has lots of elements of ‘A Christmas Carol’ and other stories that we are familiar with,” he says.
Buddy’s father, Walter, is a variation on Ebenezer Scrooge, consumed with his work.
Buddy, on the other hand, is “the embodiment of Christmas,” Beagle says. “He ends up bringing people together.”
The veteran cast is led by James Major Burns who plays Buddy. Terry Shears plays Walter and Emelia Sherin plays Jovie.
The cast also includes Mikey Zocalli (Dec. 3, 5 and 11), James Matig (Dec. 4, 10, 12), Ashley Milligan Smith, David Waldman, Denise Sciulli, Eric Chevlen and Wayne Bonner III.
The script closely follows the movie, and the music will also ring a bell with audiences.
“There are musical numbers that sound very similar to the Christmas classics that you may have heard before,” Beagle says. “It’s fun, and a lot of the lyrics are catchy.”
Instead of relying on traditional sets, the Playhouse production uses images projected on the stage’s rear wall to set the scene.
“There are street scenes, with a projection of the Empire State Building,” Beagle says. “If we’re inside the skyscraper, we see what’s outside.”
Theater is turning cinematic, the director says, and the use of projection is part of the trend.
The Playhouse’s “Elf, the Musical” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 3, 4, 10 and 11; and at 2;30 p.m. Dec. 5 and 12.
For tickets, call 330 788 8739 or go to youngstownplayhouse.org.
OTHER STAGE PRODUCTIONS
The Youngstown Playhouse isn’t the only theater in the area presenting “Elf.” The New Castle Playhouse will present the musical Dec. 10-12 and 16-19.
If you’re looking for more a more traditional holiday classic, Salem Community Theatre will present “A Christmas Carol,” the Dickens standard, Dec. 9-12. The production will mark Salem’s return to live performance after going dark about 18 months ago because of the pandemic.
Stage Left Players in Lisbon will present its original musical comedy, “It’s Christmas, Carol,” which plays off “A Christmas Carol,” Dec. 3-5 and 10-12.
MIRACLE ON EASY STREET
The pandemic forced Easy Street Productions to turn its annual holiday musical revue “Miracle on Easy Street” into a filmed production, which aired on WFMJ-TV last December.
It will do the same thing this year, although it is reshooting every scene. The new “Miracle on Easy Street” will premiere Dec. 20 at 7 p.m. on WFMJ. The show will lead into NBC’s live production of “Annie.”
“Miracle” will be repeated Dec. 22 at 7 p.m. on WBCB-TV; and on Christmas Day at 8:30 a.m. on WFMJ and 2 p.m. on WBCB.
Todd Hancock, director of the show, had hoped to do “Miracle” live this year. But he had reached out to WFMJ in the spring about airing a new recorded version in case a pandemic flare-up made that necessary.
“All of the older people in the cast are vaccinated,” Hancock says. “The only problem was that kids 12 and under were not, and I knew that they would never be vaccinated in time. So we decided we better cancel the live show.”
The revue, a Valley tradition that attracts thousands over its usual four performances at Powers Auditorium, has a cast of over 100 singers, dancers, musicians and youth performers.
Doing it live with an entirely adult cast wasn’t even a consideration.
“Without the kids under 12, there was no way we would do it,” Hancock says. “They are the heart and soul of the show.”
Last year’s filmed version used teleconferencing to record the children’s segments, which were then spliced together on the screen. The adult segments were shot on stage at Powers Auditorium. That won’t be the case this year. Instead, various Youngstown landmarks will become the backdrop for the song and dance numbers.
‘“We wanted to not only celebrate Christmas, but Youngstown, too,” Hancock says.
The segments were filmed at a variety of locales:
• The Arms Family Museum, which is decked out in vintage decor for its Memories of Christmas Past exhibition.
• Pioneer Pavilion in Mill Creek Park.
• The Butler Institute of American Art.
• St. Patrick Church in Youngstown.
• St. James Meeting House in Boardman Park.
“We’re hoping viewers take away a bit of the history of the places we’re filming at,” Hancock says. “We give a back story of each place before the scene. Each one has a very interesting history.”
To add to the Youngstown flavor, old photographs and video footage of the city will be incorporated.
“We’ll show a montage of old images from downtown, McKelvey’s, Strouss’s and some other landmarks which might not still be standing, when Maureen Collins sings ‘Somewhere in My Memory’,” Hancock says.
The photos and video were supplied by the Mahoning Valley Historical Society.
Most of the musical scenes will be familiar to anyone who’s seen the show in the past. But one new segment will feature Hancock and James McClellan.
“We’re doing the old Bing Crosby and David Bowie ‘Peace On Earth-Little Drummer Boy’ duet,” he says.
It’s a piece that aired on a Bing Crosby Christmas special many years ago.
“It might be one of the most bizarre pairings in the history of television,” Hancock says. “I always wanted to put in the show but could never fit it in.”
Pictured: Pictured at the Arms Family Museum are Easy Street mainstays James McClellan, Colleen Chance, Todd Hancock, Maureen Collins, Mary Jo Maluso and Rick Blackson.