The 2003 film “Elf” starring Will Ferrell has become a holiday classic. Its themes of Christmas spirit and family have touched people all around the world.
The musical version, by Matthew Sklar, Chad Beguelin, Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin, similarly explores the importance of being with loved ones during the holidays and having a belief in something greater than one’s self.
Arizona Broadway Theatre presents “Elf the Musical” from Nov. 22 to Dec. 29.
The musical follows Buddy the Elf as he travels from the North Pole to New York City to meet his father Walter Hobbs. Along the way, he learns about the world outside of Santa’s workshop and meets Jovie.
The musical includes key moments and characters from the film but delves into them more. One change is that Santa takes on the narrator role of Papa Elf, who isn’t in the musical.
Many pivotal scenes from the movie, including the revolving doors, have been made into large production numbers. Lighting, sound effects and an eight-piece orchestra will help bring North Pole magic to the stage.
A mix of actors from New York and Arizona make up the cast. Adult actors will play the role of the elves.
Local actors Adam Vargas and Madison Cichon play Buddy and Jovie.
Vargas, an Arizonan who lived in New York for 3½ years before moving back, has played roles such as Moose on the national tour of “Crazy for You.”
Locally, he has worked with Phoenix Theatre Company, Nearly Naked Theatre and iTheatre Collaborative and has been part of a singing trio called the Good Feelz. He envisioned Buddy as a good fit for him because of his looks and personality.
“I got so many comparisons to Will Ferrell back in New York. They always made comments that I reminded them of him. What’s better is that I love singing. That’s one of my favorite things to do is sing,” Vargas said. “I’m a little bit of a goofball too, like him.”
Over the years, Vargas has had to learn skills such as tap dancing and playing the bass for shows he has done. To prepare for the role of Buddy, he needed to work on his in-line skating.
“I would try to practice a half an hour a day, and I would do that for about a month and a half. I am not a skater. I’ve never been a skater. If I’m going to be onstage, I want to make sure I don’t fall into the pit,” Vargas said.
The show requires him to dance and is vocally demanding as well. As Buddy, he is trying to bring a high-energy, yet human character. Vargas said the theme of family is especially important in the portrayal of Buddy.
“That is something that I hope we bring to the story, is finding that family. It doesn’t always have to be your blood family. It can be the family that you choose to be your family,” Vargas said.
The production is directed by Michael Whitney, who has served as associate director on a tour of “Elf the Musical.” With the Arizona version, Whitney wanted to bring a different take.
One of the main differences will be how it is set inside a snow globe. Whitney was inspired by a scene where Santa gives Buddy a snow globe of New York City.
The production showcases holiday scenes in the North Pole, corporate world and New York City. Whitney said seeing the three Christmas settings challenges audience members to think about the deeper meaning of the holidays for them.
In the show, Buddy has an innocent quality similar to Ferrell’s character in the film. He goes through a journey where he sees darker elements that exist in the world, but he ultimately stays true to his beliefs and brings holiday cheer to others around him.
Whitney wanted to present characters and storylines that are more complex, with which people of different ages can relate.
“Of course, we allow things to get funny and enjoyable because it naturally will, but it’s my job to keep the heart and the honesty in the performances,” Whitney said.
Whitney hopes that by showing intricate emotions, such as the fear and anticipation of going into a new environment, audiences will be able to better connect with the show.
“It’s all about what types of anxieties do you as an audience have, a human condition thing that I can grab onto and tell the story through. If I can grab those ideas early and establish them, then you can empathize with the characters throughout the show,” Whitney said.
When: Friday, Nov. 22-Sunday, Dec. 29. Noon and 5:30 p.m. meal times; 2 and 7:30 p.m. show times.
Where: Arizona Broadway Theatre, 7701 W. Paradise Lane, Peoria.
Admission: $38-$95 for dinner and show.
Details: 623-776-8400, azbroadway.org.
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