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'Son of a nutcracker:' Musical 'Elf Jr.' set to open at Magnolia Arts Center

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By Kim Grizzard
The Daily Reflector

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Members of the cast of Magnolia Arts Center's “Elf Jr.” are too young to remember when Will Ferrell starred as Buddy the Elf on the big screen. The beloved 2003 movie, which cost $33 million to make, grossed more than $220 million at the box office.

The musical version, which opens Thursday, appears to possess some of the same Christmas magic. More advance tickets have been sold for “Elf Jr.” than for any show in Magnolia Arts Center history, with performances on opening night and Dec. 13 already sold out.

So why do all these humans share an affinity for elf culture?

Director RaChael Holler, who happens to be a big fan of the film, thinks she knows.

“People like holiday shows,” said Holler, who will make her Magnolia Arts directorial debut with “Elf Jr.”

Holler, a music and theater teacher at Christ Covenant School, has been working with a cast of about 30 students representing about half a dozen area schools to stage the lesser-known musical version.

“The musical's fun. It's very festive. It's funny,” Holler said. “It's just kind of like funny one-liners throughout.”

The junior version follows the basic premise of the film but skips the profanity and innuendo of the 2010 Broadway musical. In it, Santa arrives back at the North Pole one Christmas with an orphan named Buddy who had crawled into Santa's bag undetected. Raised among elves, Buddy is later confronted with the truth, which leads him on a journey to New York City to find his birth father.

Filling the (pointy) shoes of Ferrell's Buddy character was quite literally a tall order. D.H. Conley High School junior Caleb McLaren is 6 feet, 2 inches, but that is not necessarily what made him stand out at auditions

Caleb, 17, who previously appeared in “Brothers Grimm” and “The Addams Family” at Conley, is a big kid at heart, especially when it comes to Christmas.

“Inside and outside of this musical, I love Christmas,” said Caleb, who is making his Magnolia Arts debut. “January first, I count down the days until Christmas. I love Christmas so much.

“I'm always singing Christmas songs, even when it's October. I just could connect with Buddy in that way,” he said. “He's very childlike.”

A.G. Cox sixth-grader Charlie Laughinghouse is making his theatrical debut as Michael, Buddy's half-brother. In the stage version, Michael no longer believes in Santa.

Neither does his mother, Emily, who is portrayed by Ella Coats. The 16-year-old, who starred as Wednesday Addams in Conley's “The Addams Family,” also is making her Magnolia Arts debut.

“Elf” is hardly new to Ella.

“I've grown up watching this movie,” she said. “I think we went through a phase when I was little where every movie night it was 'Elf.'”

Conley senior Henry Charvat has similar memories.

“It's always been one of my favorite Christmas movies,” said Henry, who has been performing at Conley since his freshman year and made his Magnolia Arts debut with “Honk Jr.”

While Henry had auditioned to play Buddy, he has embraced the character of Buddy's father, Walter Hobbs. Henry's first antagonist role, Walter is on Santa's “naughty list.”

Fans of the film will be happy to hear several familiar lines, including “cotton-headed ninny muggins” and “son of a nutcracker.” The hilarious scene between Buddy and “fake Santa” is also there, complete with the line “You sit on a throne of lies.”

South Central High School student Emma Laughinghouse, who plays Buddy's love interest, Jovie, is a big fan of the film version who also came to love the musical after she saw it with her grandparents a few years ago.

“The second I found out they were doing the junior production here, I knew I had to audition,” said Emma, who was previously cast in “Head Elf” at Magnolia Arts.”I just love it because it takes the story that we all know and love and adds music to it. It surprises you. It gives you something new to like.

“It's such a lovable story and it's just so much fun,” she said. “It's a story that everyone can come to love.”

“Elf Jr.” cast members agree that the musical has the potential to become a perennial holiday favorite that could rival “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” or even “A Christmas Carol.”

“The music, it's so catchy and everyone can sing it,” Caleb said. “Every song is imbued with Christmas. This show could easily become a Christmas tradition.

“That's what I hope this show does for everybody is get people so excited for Christmas they just revel in that joy,” he said. “That's what I've been doing. I love it so much.”

WANT TO GO?

Magnolia Arts Center, 1703 E. 14th St., will host youth musical productions of “Elf, Jr.” at 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and Dec. 14-15. Matinee performances will begin at 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday and Dec. 16. Seating is limited.Tickets are $20 for general admission and $15 for students and seniors. Visit magnoliaartscenter.com.

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