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‘Elf: The Musical’ encourages audiences to fall in love with the holidays again

Rebecca Barnabi
Logan Tudor is “Buddy” in “Elf: The Musical” at The Wayne Theatre. Photos by Rebecca J. Barnabi.

Buddy lives at the North Pole happily doing elf activities and working for Santa Claus.

Until, one day, Santa reveals a secret: Buddy is not actually an elf.

The Wayne Theatre presents the story of living with the gift that anyone can give: the gift of holiday spirit and cheer all year round. “Elf: The Musical” will be performed Thursday, Nov. 30 to Sunday, Dec. 3, and Friday, Dec. 8 to Sunday, December 10, 2023.

Based upon the movie starring SNL alum Will Ferrell, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, director Lesley Larsen chose “Elf” to carry on this season’s theme that live versions of literature or movies are always better.

“What we set out to prove this season is that the live version, the play version, being in front of an audience version is superior to the other versions of this show,” Larsen said.

Larsen said the 2003 film is delightful and no one “can beat the ridiculousness that is Will Ferrell, yet when you put that fun energy, the entire cast has it, the show is infectious, their energy and play that they have with each other on stage, when you put that in front of a live audience, I think, you walk away feeling so much more filled with the holiday spirit.”

The cast consists of 24 actors, including newcomer and recent UVA graduate Lydia Newman. Larsen said that half the cast is children, and a small cast is a “great opportunity for performers to play multiple characters.” For example, Wayne veteran Jennifer Jones, who portrays Mrs. Claus, Mr. Greenlaw and a department store Santa.

Larsen said she hopes audience members take away a feeling of holiday spirit after seeing the show and that they find how Buddy loves “unabashedly” infectious.

“Buddy reminds us to focus on what’s really important,” Larsen said. “And that’s family, that’s showing kindness to everyone and showing love to everyone. And that’s what Buddy does.”

Collin Wheeler, center, is “Walter Hobbes,” “Buddy’s” dad in “Elf: The Musical” at The Wayne Theatre.

While most every character around Buddy grows into their holiday spirit and joy of Christmas, Buddy is the only character in “Elf” who remains essentially the same.

“This time of season, we made the choice to do a holiday show because Buddy is such an infectious character that is determined to spread Christmas or holiday cheer with everyone. It felt like a great opportunity for us to do the same, to embody the spirit of Buddy and share our holiday spirit through the community,” Larsen said.

The Wayne “definitely would love to be a part of everyone’s holiday tradition.”

“We’re dreaming of a Wayne Christmas” is becoming a catch phrase behind the scenes, according to Larsen.

Logan Tudor is Buddy, and audience members will most recently recognize him from having portrayed the dentist in “Little Shop of Horrors” at The Wayne. He was also “Schroeder” in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.”

To prepare to portray Hollywood’s happiest character, Tudor said he watched the movie several times and looked for correlations between the lines. He also made sure to rest when off stage so that he is prepared for the high energy necessary to be Buddy onstage.

“The show’s been one of the best shows I’ve done. Lots of great people, lots of great memories,” Tudor said.

He said he hopes audience members enjoy the show and have a Merry Christmas.

“The best way to spread Christmas cheer is by singing loud for all to hear,” Tudor said.

“Elf” is Newman’s first show at The Wayne after graduating UVA in the spring with a degree in drama and media studies. She portrays “Deb,” “Walter Hobbes’s” secretary, a store elf and is part of the ensemble. The movie is one of Newman’s favorites.

To prepare for her roles, Newman said she focused on rehearsals and soaked in what Larsen directed her and her fellow actors to do on stage.

“Deb” is very business oriented, but when she meets Buddy she is not afraid to show her fun side.

“I think she does see [Buddy] as naïve, but also sees him as not a nuisance, a source of entertainment and giddiness,” Newman, who grew up in Maryland, said.

An ensemble cast brings “Elf: The Musical” to the stage at The Wayne Theatre and includes several child actors.

She hopes audience members take away from the show what she has: have fun, bring joy and a sense of community.

Audience members recently saw Collin Wheeler as “Sebastian” in “The Little Mermaid” at the Wayne. He began acting in 6th grade, and for the next two weekends will bring “Walter Hobbes” to the stage. “Elf” is his 11th show at The Wayne.

Wheeler described Hobbes as very business-oriented and putting his work before anything else in his life, and having lost his Christmas spirit.

“Buddy kind of helps to bring out his Christmas spirit,” Wheeler said.

To prepare for his role, Wheeler watched the movie, in which veteran actor James Caan portrayed Hobbes. Wheeler said that the character is not an angry man, just serious and professionally driven.

“I hope they take away that you’re never too old to enjoy the Christmas season, to enjoy the holiday season, and to believe in Santa and the magic that comes with it,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler’s favorite scene onstage is when Santa Claus appears in Central Park and all Hobbes can do is stand in front of him with a shocked look on his face.

“Just kind of taking in the fact that if Santa is real, then so is everything else,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler’s favorite part of doing “Elf” this holiday season was rediscovering the joy of Christmas.

“I get to experience falling in love with the holiday season all over again,” he said. “It’s not really something I thought about when I auditioned for the role.”

Buddy comes across in the film and onstage as naïve and child-like, but he actually is just a happy individual who does not let the trials of life change him. He also has kept the Christmas spirit within himself.

“Just because you get older, doesn’t mean that it has to go away,” Wheeler said.

Tickets are available online.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.