Mooseltoe comes to North Jersey
On Comet, on Cupid, on Donner … and Mooseltoe?Such is the name of a young moose living at the North Pole who feels lost and lonely — until one magical Christmas, when finally he sees his wildest fantasy come true. He becomes the first non-reindeer to guide Santa’s sleigh.
That’s the story of Mooseltoe, a family-friendly holiday musical playing at the Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown on Sunday. Children can gaze at actors in giant penguin and walrus suits prancing on stage. Parents can try and guess the voices of the celebrity actors who provide the characters’ recorded voices. (One is Christopher Plummer, while the narrator is Al Roker.)
But Scott Lilly is the man behind Mooseltoe. This is his fifth straight holiday season playing the lead role. Jersey Arts’ Brent Johnson spoke with Lilly about the difficulty of doing theater in a massive moose suit and why it’s worth it in the end.
Jersey Arts: I read something that said this is kind of a sequel to Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer. Is that right?
Scott Lilly: Sort of. It’s a story about a moose, Mooseltoe. He’s part of this family of mooses. He’s the young son. They live up at the North Pole. His biggest dream in life is to be one of Santa’s flying reindeer. Which, of course, his whole family and all of his friends think is just silly — because he’s a moose.
So he decides to run away and go on this big journey of self-discovery, trying to learn how to fly. Kind of like the story of Rudolph, something goes wrong with one of the reindeer, and they need some to fill in. And Mooseltoe comes to save the day.
JA: Do you primarily work in children’s theater? Or was this character something new for you?
SL: I predominantly do musical theater. I had done a few children’s shows before, but this is the first and only real thing I’ve ever done with the full costume, where all of the gestures have to be really big. Your face isn’t seen in all this stuff. You’re singing and dancing to a pre-recorded track to someone else’s voice. So it’s all about the body language and telling a story without words. It’s really fun but challenging. It’s a boot camp for the body.
JA:What does the costume look like?
SL: Gosh. I think it’s about 8 feet tall. It’s a big fur suit with a 40-pound headpiece — just a big head with antlers. I think I’ve got a pair of about size 19 Converse sneakers. And a snout that when I move my jaw, his mouth moves, so I can kind of move my mouth along to the words.
JA:What’s the difference between good children’s theater and bad children’s theater?
SL: Part of the thing that makes Mooseltoe successful is it’s about a 50-minute show. It’s not too long. It’s hard to get a kid to sit for any long period of time. It’s 50 minutes, and there are parts where kids get to participate.
JA: Do you take any inspiration from other holiday stories?
SL: Not really. There are certain folk narratives between this and the Rudolph story. It’s about someone who feels different and who everyone says: You’re different, you don’t belong, you don’t fit in. Which is something I think a lot of kids can identify with. But as the story shows, it’s that dream, it’s that drive that actually makes them special — that makes them be the one that saves the day.
[Mooseltoe is] a character that I think a lot of kids can identify with. It’s a very general kind of character. He’s kind of the kid brother of the moose family, and he’s got these big dreams and big aspirations. But everyone feels it’s such a ridiculous idea. That’s not what moose do. That’s not what moose dream about. But he says, ‘No. This is what I want to do. This is who I am. I am going to believe in myself.’ It’s that belief in yourself that really makes you who you are — not what other people say you are. And I think everyone at some point in time — even kids — have felt that way.
JA: You’ve played this part for five years now?
SL: This is my fifth consecutive year saving Christmas. [laughs]
JA: So why keep coming back?
SL: After about five years, the cast and crew have started to feel like family. And the message is such a positive one. I feel like being an actor is to share messages and to inspire — particularly children and the next generation.