Hoopla

'Elf the Musical' bringing ho-ho-holiday spirit to TCR stage

TINT

Buddy’s family will never be the same when he breezes in for Christmas in “Elf the Musical,” coming to town Friday (11/16) to Dec. 16 at Theatre Cedar Rapids. The cast includes (from left) Buddy’s dad, Walter (Greg Brown), brother Michael (Connor French), Buddy (DJ Kohl) and new girlfriend Jovie (Emily Palmer).
TINT Buddy’s family will never be the same when he breezes in for Christmas in “Elf the Musical,” coming to town Friday (11/16) to Dec. 16 at Theatre Cedar Rapids. The cast includes (from left) Buddy’s dad, Walter (Greg Brown), brother Michael (Connor French), Buddy (DJ Kohl) and new girlfriend Jovie (Emily Palmer).
/

CEDAR RAPIDS — Once a happy-go-lucky, over-the-top teen, grown-up DJ Kohl is tapping into his squelched inner elf to spring Buddy to life in “Elf the Musical.”

Based on the 2003 Christmas film classic, the song-and-dance stage version is coming to town Friday (11/16) through Dec. 16 at Theatre Cedar Rapids. Tickets have been flying faster than Santa’s reindeer, so several Thursday shows have been added to the lineup.

But in this tale, Rudolph and the herd won’t be hoofing it onto the stage. Santa’s sleigh is powered by Christmas spirit — something sorely lacking in the heart of New York City. That apathy could actually ground Santa’s overnight flight, breaking hopeful hearts around the world. Coincidentally, Buddy, who crawled into Santa’s bag as a baby in an orphanage, and was raised at the North Pole, has just found out he isn’t an elf. His human mother died, but his father — who doesn’t know he exists — lives in the Big Apple. So at Santa’s urging, Buddy heads south to find his dad, biting off more than either one can chew.

Up ’til now, Buddy’s big job has been pounding out Etch A Sketches in Santa’s workshop. This year, however, his even bigger job becomes spreading Christmas cheer through everyone he encounters, starting with his father. And of course, the best way to do that is by “singing loud for all to hear.”

That’s the overarching theme of the 2003 movie, too, which Kohl, 21, of Marion, hasn’t wrapped in a big old Buddy hug.

“I own the movie,” he said. “I’ve seen the movie once, and to be honest, I don’t like the movie. I think it was because of the over-the-top joy that just hits you 24/7 in that movie. It was just never my thing.”

“And I think that might be the secret of your success,” director Joe Link, 42, of Cedar Rapids, replied in a recent roundtable interview with Buddy and Santa.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

“When you create a movie into a play, everyone comes and they want certain things to be just like the movie — and want everything else to be completely unlike the movie, because why else am I here at a live performance,” Link said. “So from Day 1, right in auditions, he brought in a Buddy that was the same level of energy, the same level of joy, but was his. It’s a sincere Buddy. I said, ‘That’s it. That’s the exact direction we want to go.’ I knew from the auditions that’s how I wanted to work, and he has been an unstoppable freight train of joy ever since.”

Kohl threw his pointy hat in the rink because musicals are his thing. He was in every Theatre Cedar Rapids musical last year, he said, and in the previous season, was a pirate in “Peter Pan.” So he came back for more audition experience — and left with a feeling that he had a shot at the lead.

“He’s got an inner elf,” Link and Rick Titus said simultaneously. Titus, 66, of Cedar Rapids, should recognize an elf when he sees one. He’s pulling on the festive red suit for another go-round the world, after playing the jolly old elf in TCR’s “Miracle on 34th Street” in 2013.

“To be honest, it kinda reflects on how I used to be,” Kohl said, noting he was that guy in high school who was quick to help out anyone, anywhere. “People ended up liking me. As you grow up, you kinda drop that down a little bit. You’re not over the top that much anymore. I’ve already lived through the super-happy, the super let’s-get-this-done, hey everybody let’s be friends kind of phase, so it’s in me to know what to do. It’s like revisiting that.”

“So you Buddy-ize yourself every night,” Link pointed out to him.

But in the play, Buddy isn’t happy every moment, loaded up on the four main food groups of “candy, candy canes, candy corns and syrup.” He actually moves through a range of emotions as he encounters various people along the way.

“Buddy changes himself and others throughout the show,” Kohl said. “How we start the show is a lot like the movie. It’s in-your-face happy, over-the-top joy and stuff like that. Once he starts meeting people from New York, they start changing him while he changes them. They start believing in Christmas again. They start helping each other, they start being joyful, giving back.

“How they help him, is they develop him into more human than what he is, because for 30 years, he thought he was an elf.”

Buddy comes down from his sugar high to learn different emotions. During his journey of discovery, he becomes enamored of his co-worker Jovie, who thinks he’s delusional; gets yelled at by his dad; gets kicked out; gets arrested; and has his heart broken, Kohl said.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Thank you for signing up for our e-newsletter!

You should start receiving the e-newsletters within a couple days.

“He’s gotta go from happy to sad to feeling outcast, feeling regret, feeling pressure to get Christmas spirit back to the sleigh so Santa can go on his run,” he added.

It’s not a downer, however, as the show is wrapped up in glittery songs, costumes and scenery — and so many dancing kick lines.

Santa has a brand-new bag, too. He’s the show’s narrator and the Yoda who mentors Buddy, Link said.

It’s a role Titus savors — he even kept his beard from playing patriarch Jacob in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” at TCR in May.

As Santa, he’s looking forward to being the only one who talks directly to the audience, and as part of his character development has imagined what gift he would have given each cast member in their youth. He also loves that “Elf” makes a reference to “Miracle on 34th Street,” where Titus began his Santa gig.

“What I love is that he came into auditions and his song was ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town,’” Link said, but Titus changed the words to “This guy is coming to town.”

“And the rest is history,” Link said, adding that the show is suitable for all ages. No believer bubbles will be burst.

“I’ve been incredibly protective of that,” said the father of two daughters ages 10 and 6.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

“It was (TCR artistic director) Angie Toomsen who said it perfectly: ‘You start with Santa Claus. He talks directly to the audience. He proves just how real he is. For the rest of the play, it’s the parents and the adults who have forgotten their Christmas spirit that are foolish.’

“We celebrate the people who are Buddy-ized — who meet Buddy and become colorful and become happy again,” Link said. “It’s more than just ‘Do you believe in Santa?’ It’s ‘Do you have the Christmas spirit entirely?’ And then we made sure there was never a bubble-bursting moment.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com

GET OUT!

WHAT: “Elf the Musical”

WHERE: Theatre Cedar Rapids, 102 Third St. SE

WHEN: Friday (11/16) to Dec. 16; 7:30 p.m. Thursday to Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday

TICKETS: $22 student to $50 adult; TCR Box Office, (319) 366-8591 or Theatrecr.org

EXTRA: ASL interpreted performance 7:30 p.m. Dec. 8; call (319) 366-8591 for seats in this section

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

CONTINUE READING

Want to join the conversation?

Consider subscribing to TheGazette.com and participate in discussing the important issues to our community with other Gazette subscribers.

Already a Gazette or TheGazette.com subscriber? Just login here with your account email and password.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.