Buddy the Elf is on his way to Midlothian.
While most of the district had the week off for Thanksgiving break, the actors and actresses from the Midlothian High School theatre department were busy rehearsing their fall musical – "Elf Jr." The musical is a Broadway retelling of the 2003 Christmas film, "Elf," which starred actor Will Ferrell as a man named Buddy who grew up believing that he was an elf.
“It’s a lot to live up to,” senior Kennedee Slaydon said, who is one of two actors that portray Buddy in the production. “It’s a lot of pressure.”
CHRISTMAS IN JULY
Director Angee Hallmark said the theatre department decided early last year that they wanted to do a more festive production for their 2018 fall season. Inspired by Buddy’s journey from the North Pole all the way to New York City, Hallmark said they announced the production in July and held auditions in August.
“We’ve been living Christmas since July,” Hallmark remarked. “This is the first time I’ve ever done a Christmas musical.”
Junior Carson Almand got the part of Buddy in addition to Slaydon. Junior Rustin Rushing portrays Buddy’s father, Walter Hobbs, while senior Rebekah Myers and junior Caitlin Hullett were cast as Buddy’s love interest, Jovie.
“At the beginning of the show, Jovie doesn’t like Christmas and is very against all of this stuff,” Hullet explained. “She’s just basically really sad and non-jolly for the majority of her time in New York. And then she meets this overly eccentric character Buddy, who is the epitome of everything she resents, and slowly she kind of turns towards it and morphs to it.”
Hullet said she particularly identified with Jovie’s distaste of the Holidays. She especially faced more festive fatigue working on Christmas stuff in the middle of summer.
“I actually don’t like Christmas,” Hullet remarked. “Whenever it was announced we were doing ‘Elf,’ I kind of crumbled a little bit inside. My dad is the kind of guy that will start playing Christmas music in July. And then all of this is starting, and I was like ‘Christmas time is actually going to come around and I’m going to feel like exploding every five seconds.”
Hullet said performing in “Elf Jr.” has helped her gain a little more appreciation for the holidays – just like her character. Still, there are times where the overwhelming sense of Christmas spirit irritates her.
“It’s made me like Christmas a little more, but there are still days when we’ll be riding the bus home from something, and people will just start singing Christmas carols and playing music,” she recalled. “I’m like, oh. Lovely.”
Regardless, she said she enjoys rehearsal with her friends, and she’s particularly proud of how far they’ve come in performance.
“It’s really good to get to do it with Carson and Kennedee because we’ve been with them for a really long time,” she said. “Getting to see them develop from chorus roles to leads and getting to be with them through all that really helps you build your own character.”
A DIFFERENT BUDDY
While “Elf Jr.” is largely based around the movie of the same name, there are a few differences between the two adaptations. For one thing, there is no scene where Buddy calls a dwarf an “angry elf,” which results in a fight between Buddy and the Dwarf in the conference room. There’s also no comedically-long belch that Buddy emits from his stomach.
However, that doesn’t mean this rendition of Buddy’s story isn’t fun or original. Almand said his favorite part of playing Buddy is that he gets to put his spin on the character, while at the same time staying true to his original portrayal.
“One of the things that Kennedee and I have gotten is 'Y'all act like Buddy every single day,'” Almand said. “But the thing is you can’t just get on stage and be yourself. You have to show them you are not Kennedee Slaydon or Carson Almand. You have more depth to your character, and maybe a little bit more than Will Ferrell. We also have to put our own spins on it, so it doesn’t look like a copycat character.”
Hallmark said the production has a mixture of both dramatic and musical moments to pull from. Hallmark said finding the balance between subverting and fulfilling expectations has been the production’s greatest challenge.
“They have a point of reflection on it, and so does the audience,” Hallmark said. “It’s kind of a fine line to walk here between what they’re expecting from the movie and then what we do in the musical. The kids have to bring their own Buddy – their own Will Ferrell – but they also can’t violate the expectations of the audience. I mean they’re waiting for certain words like ‘Goodbye buddy. I hope you find your dad.’”
Myers said she'd rehearsed so much with Slaydon and Almand that her dynamic with them on-stage has started to blur into her personal relationship with them.
“It’s very interesting to see that happen once you start digging deep into the character,” she said. “I love them all, and I’m enjoying the time that I have to spend with them. I think that it really is a great production to show those different sides of humanity, and how you can act as though you’re really joyful and full of all this happiness, but on the inside, there’s something else that’s missing. I think that’s the one thing that Buddy shows the entire time.”
Hallmark said the show had been built on a strong sense of community and commitment, noting about 50 kids worked on this production, and they’ve all rehearsed two to three times a week since the semester began.
The theatre department also collaborated with parents and school art classes to build and paint the colorful sets for the production. She said the department couldn’t have done this show without everyone involved.
“This is the only production that we opened up to the entire school,” she said. “It really has grown a lot since we’ve been here.”
Slaydon said he’s performed in musical all four years of high school. Slaydon said one of the coolest things for him is seeing how many different groups come together to bring Buddy’s story to life on the stage.
“We’ll have members of different sports teams, different clubs in the school, and not only the individual actors and dancers, but we’ll have our Pantherettes team come in and help. We’ll have parents that will drop their everyday jobs and come help us.”
“It really ties in a lot of aspects of the community together to help,” he stated. “Not just Midlothian theatre, but everyone.”
Show times are 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 29 through Saturday, Dec. 1 and 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 2 at the Midlothian High School auditorium located at 923 S 9th St.
To purchase tickets, go online at www.misd.gs, or call 817-715-4456.