It takes a lot of energy to play Buddy, the human raised by Santa’s elves in “Elf the Musical.”
Will Ferrell created the character for the 2003 movie, but Tim Shonkwiler gets his own crack at it in Missoula Community Theatre’s upcoming musical production.
“How would you play a 30-year-old who acts like a 12-year-old? It just takes a lot of energy,” Shonkwiler said. Espresso might help.
“I’m going to need a quad shot to get through the show.”
“Elf the Musical” premiered on Broadway in 2010 and quickly became one of the most popular holiday shows over the next few seasons.
That grabbed the attention of MCT’s Artistic Director Joe Martinez.
“There’s not that many holiday shows,” Martinez said. “We jumped right on it.”
The story follows Buddy as he travels from the North Pole to New York City to find his family. The happy-go-lucky elf finds out his father is a Scrooge-ish publishing executive and works to teach him the true meaning of Christmas.
The musical stands apart from the movie, tweaking the story and some of the characters, while adding big song-and-dance numbers that will be some of the largest MCT has pulled off.
“Elf the Musical’s” script kept all of the movie’s heart and humor, Martinez said, but realizes nobody can (or wants to try to) be Will Ferrell.
Martinez also hasn’t seen the movie, and told Shonkwiler straight away to make the character his own.
“There are just some movies that I refuse to watch because everybody talks about them,” he said. But, “to tell ‘Elf’ in our own way is exciting.”
That starts with Shonkwiler’s Buddy, who is on stage for nearly the entire show (there’s one song and scene without him).
Buddy — a hyperactive sugar-addicted elf — has a manic energy that’s hard for even Shonkwiler to keep up with throughout the show.
“His talking is just really fast and not normal,” Shonkwiler said. “Sometimes my lines change just a little bit.”
The musical also boasts the biggest song-and-dance numbers since MCT’s production of “West Side Story,” according to Martinez, with up to 40 people on stage singing and doing choreography.
The music and lyrics vary widely in style, though they’re all familiar sounding, Martinez thought, lending the songs a comfortable holiday feel.
The dancing, singing and acting requirements for Buddy meant Martinez had to find a “true triple-threat” in Shonkwiler.
“There’s not many shows out there that require all three,” Shonkwiler said. “It’s definitely fun.”
This is the first holiday season the show is available for community theater productions, making Missoula one of the first towns in the nation to put it on.
It’s so fresh that although MCT picked the script two years ago, some of the music sheets weren’t available when they started production.
“It’s just sweet and endearing,” Martinez said. “It’s great to remember what it’s like to make people happy, and that’s what Buddy wants to do.”