When Brainerd Community Theatre’s holiday show ‘Elf-The Musical’ hits the stage it will not be without some behind-the-scenes drama. The show will perform December 9-11 and 14-16 at 7 pm and also as a 2 pm matinee on Saturday the 11th. All performances are on the John Chalberg Theatre stage on the Brainerd campus of Central Lakes College.
“We hadn’t staged a true Christmas-themed show in some time,” noted Spradlin, “and so when ‘Elf’ was suggested as a possible production we immediately knew that was the show for us. I approached Travis Chaput to direct, and he enthusiastically agreed.”
The 25-member cast began rehearsals in early October, and all went well until just over two weeks prior to the December 9 opening. According to Chaput, “Jake Denning, playing the lead role of Buddy, was making an exit and thought he saw something lying on the stage floor. He jumped over it, but when he landed we heard this loud pop.” The noise was the sound of Denning’s Achilles tendon separating, an injury that took him into the emergency room and out of the show.”
“There was no way Jake could continue after that,” explained Spradlin. “We don’t have understudies in community theatre, unlike the professional world. We were really up against it.” With two weeks to go until opening night, there was only one person who could realistically step into the role with any real confidence—director Chaput.
“Travis is a seasoned performer,” said Spradlin. “He’s a really talented performer of musical comedy, so this was clearly a good option, all things considered. It is so unfortunate to lose Jake to this accident. He is also a gifted performer, and would have been a real delight as the main character Buddy.”
Buddy is the elf in the title of the show. The musical is a stage adaptation of the movie by the same title, which starred Will Farrell. In ‘Elf,’ a young boy (Buddy) has mistakenly crawled into Santa’s toy sack one Christmas Eve and been transported back to the North Pole. There he is raised by the elves, who think he is one of them. However, when Buddy matures it becomes apparent from his size that he’s actually human. Santa encourages him to return to New York to find his biological parents. He does, but faced with the harsh reality that Walter, Buddy’s father, is on the naughty list and Walter’s child doesn’t even believe in Santa, Buddy is determined to win over his birth family and help New York City remember the true meaning of Christmas.
The cast comes from several local communities and includes Jana Johnson, Phyl Bell, Noah Mickelson, Martha Rustad, Elli Salo, Rachel Martin, Peyton Freeman, Lauren Yeager, Kryston Wiseley, Anika Seitzer, Ryan Deblock, Maureen Paulus, and Chaput (Brainerd), Marc Oliphant (Baxter), Brian Rhett (Pillager), Abi Swanson (Crosslake), Rhonda Schmidt, Melissa Peterson, Rachael Kline, and Jesse Brutscher (Little Falls), Mackenzie Pratt, Abby Pratt, Emily Pratt (Merrifield), Macy Judd (Staples), and Lydia Jendro (Fort Ripley).
The creative team, in addition to Chaput, includes choreographer/stage manager Amy Borash, vocal director Koreann Martin, set designer George Marsolek, lighting designer Heidi Eckwall, costumer Deb Binda, and master electrician/sound engineer Curtis Jendrow.
Spradlin sat down with Chaput to discuss the production and some of the challenges encountered in the process of producing it.
Spradlin: Why ‘Elf’? What is it you find appealing about this show?
Chaput: Christmas has always been my favorite time of year. A production at Christmas was the thing that got me back into community theatre. The crowds were so receptive and it made me think that after the last 19 months of craziness, our community needed something uplifting to raise all our spirits and remind us of what the holiday season is all about. This musical seemed like the perfect thing to bring us all together again for the holidays.
Spradlin: For those not familiar with the story, describe the show.
Chaput: Elf is the story about Buddy. a human that was raised at the north pole by elves. Around his 30th birthday one of the elves lets slip that Buddy is human and he travels to NYC in search of his birth family. Along the way buddy helps to restore Christmas spirit all over the city and meets a young woman named Jovie who is a true Scrooge about Christmas. Buddy tries to connect with his father and bring Christmas spirit back into the lives of all the citizens in the city.
Spradlin: For those familiar with the movie version, are there surprises in the stage production? Major differences?
Chaput: Aside from the story now having great musical numbers. I think a lot of people will be pleased to see all the classic moments people love from the movie. And there are also some fun additions just for the musical.
Spradlin: You’ve had some real challenges: losing cast members to scheduling conflicts, dealing with COVID protocols. Most recently you lost your lead actor to an accident. How have you and the cast responded to these challenges?
Chaput: My cast is amazing. These folks have been working hard for weeks and have dealt with every blow we have taken in stride. This cast really embodies the true meaning of theatre. They come together when there are challenges and come back even stronger. Everything we have gone through will only make this production better and a real must see.
Spradlin: You’ve had to assume the lead role of Buddy with less than 2 weeks of rehearsals remaining before opening night. Nervous?
Chaput: I think nervous is an understatement. This isn’t at all what we wanted. Jake Denning was the perfect Buddy and it breaks my heart that folks won’t get to see his portrayal of this character. When I was casting the show, he was my top pick from the get-go. We both had conversations about how this was a dream role for us both. But I also wanted to see this show come to life with or without me and Jake was willing to take on the task of bringing this iconic character to life. I am going to do my very best to make him proud. My cast is rallying behind me right now and getting me up to snuff on everything. I promise the audience won’t miss a beat. But we are all thinking and praying for Jake right now and wishing him a speedy recovery.
Spradlin: Anything else you’d like audiences to know before they come to the show?
Chaput: We are still dealing with COVID and cases are rising in our state. So please do your part by abiding by the mask mandate for all patrons of the show. We want to ensure that everyone attending feels as safe as possible when seeing the show, and we also want to protect the actors on stage who have worked so hard over the last 7 weeks to bring this show to life.
Tickets for ‘Elf—the Musical’ are available from the CLC Theatre Box Office at (218) 855-8199 or online at www.clcperformingarts.com Some performances are already close to sold out, so advance ticket purchase is recommended.
This production is made possible, in part, by the voters of Minnesota, through a grant from the Five Wings Arts Council, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.