The Cast of Paper Mill’s "Elf" is Having the Best Christmas Ever
There has never been a more perfect time for James Moye to play Buddy the Elf. The actor, who stars in Paper Mill Playhouse’s production of “Elf: the Musical of Elfic Proportions" as a twinkly-eyed grown man who was raised in the North Pole, welcomed twins with his wife last July. For this new father, the holiday season is about to take on a whole new meaning. “As a parent now,” says Moye, “experiencing Christmas again through a child’s eyes is going to be really fun and exciting”
Fun is the key word here. Remember how hilarious the 2003 movie was, starring Will Ferrell as a jubilant Christmas ambassador searching for his parents in New York? Take that same amount of giddy humor and add in an infectious musical score by Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguilen and book by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin, and what you’ve got is a massively entertaining Christmas story crafted for the iPhone generation.
When it comes to rediscovering your inner child and preparing to be a fun dad, Buddy is giving 40-year-old Moye plenty of practice. “This gives me a chance to get up on stage and bounce around and be a complete and total goofball. There aren’t many opportunities to do this,” Moye says. “It’s a blast.”
Yet don’t be surprised if the shiny, brightly-colored package of “Elf” is more than what it seems when unwrapped.
“Just when you think it’s only a little Christmas confection, I cry three times during the show,” says Heidi Blickenstaff. The Broadway fave plays Emily, the mother of the family Buddy is determined to yank out of the yuletide doldrums. “It’s so moving. This show is filled with for-real Christmas spirit.”
After debuting on Broadway in 2010, “Elf” made a return holiday engagement in 2012. At this same time, Seattle's 5th Ave Theatre was mounting its own original production of the musical—a rare allowance for such a new show, especially when playing on the Great White Way—under the direction of Eric Ankrim. Ankrim has now brought that production to Paper Mill, and couldn’t be happier for a second go with “Elf.”
“There is never a bad time to have a glorious Christmas musical,” says Ankrim. “The writers have found a way to honor the comedy style that the movie first established, but really infuse the second act with a real story of family, faith and childlike joy.”
The production is built around the construct of a giant snow globe (scenic design by Matthew Smucker), with the story taking place inside it. Aside from playing off of classic Christmas imagery, Ankrim says the set “allows us to be completely committed to the fairy tale of Buddy’s mission to find his father. It’s a fantastical holiday adventure, but within that, the characters themselves remain completely real and grounded.”
The real-life authenticity of these characters is important to Ankrim, who believes the heart of “Elf” lies in the sweetness of Buddy.
“This is just a guy who happened to be born and raised in the North Pole and thinks he’s an elf, but he’s just a dude,” Ankrim says. “Jim is just that big baritone of a guy, who, looking at him, there’s something hilarious about him fully believing with every fiber of his being that he is one of Santa’s elves.”
Ankrim made his Broadway debut in 2013’s “First Date” and is a star actor and director in the Seattle theater scene. He is also one of the biggest proponents of what Buddy stands for.
“He walks in and he is seen as almost an imbecile by everyone because he is so happy and joyful,” says Akrim. “A lot of times in today’s cynical world, true joy can be seen as frivolity. I’m in the business of musical theater because I think there’s true value in absolute frivolity and celebrating the kids inside us that would sing along to ‘Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer’ at the top of their lungs.” Ankrim, Moye and Blickenstaff all admit that being a part of “Elf” this season has gotten them as immersed in the holiday spirit as one can be.
“Christmas always felt a little pressure-y to me, with all the gift giving, but this season it feels different,” says Blickenstaff. “I said before we started rehearsals, ‘I’m really gonna commit to Christmas this year. I’m really going all the way!’”
And if Ankrim’s philosophy about singing at the top of your lungs for joy is any indication, Blickenstaff is relishing her director’s notes. One of the highlights of the show is the 11 o’clock number “There Is A Santa Claus,” a gloriously belty duet sung by Emily and her young son Michael (Jake Faragalli), who suffers from Christmas skepticism.
“It’s like total musical theater magic,” Blickenstaff says. “When I saw the show on Broadway, I was like, ‘Oh my God, what a perfect song!’ I feel so glad that I get to sing it.”
The cast members of “Elf” have already gotten their holiday wish by rollicking in fake snow and joyous songs—now they want Paper Mill audiences to receive theirs.
“I’m looking forward to a lot of high fives from kids at the stage door,” Moye says. “When you’re working as a theatre artist, there’s nothing tangible about the work. Knowing that you hopefully brought a lot of joy to somebody and made kids happy, that’s the really fun stuff to work on.”
"Elf the Musical of Elfic Proportions" is on stage at Paper Mill Playhouse, 22 Brookside Drive, Millburn, NJ 07041, now through January 4. For tickets or more information, visit http://www.papermill.org or call 973.376.4343.