As Old School’s party monster Frank the Tank, Will Ferrell leaped to the head of Hollywood’s so-called Frat Pack. However, it took a charming little movie called Elf, which dominated the Christmas box-office season later that year, to make him a comedic superstar.
The former Saturday Night Live player poured every ounce of Frank the Tank’s manic energy into a green felt suit as Buddy, a guileless man raised at the North Pole believing he’s an elf. He happily, if awkwardly, works at Santa’s workshop until learning he’s adopted, at which point Buddy sets out to find his birth father in New York. He loves sugar (a lot), but not the Santa at Gimbels department store, whom Buddy accuses of sitting on “a throne of lies.”
Ferrell left huge pointy slippers to fill when composer Matthew Sklar and lyricist Chad Beguelin, coming off their successful musical version of the Adam Sandler comedy The Wedding Singer, decided to do an adaptation of Jon Favreau’s 2003 film. Opening on Broadway seven years later, Elf: The Musical tapped into the movie’s huge reservoir of audience goodwill and quickly became a go-to holiday production for regional companies like Houston’s Theatre Under the Stars, whose sophomore staging opens this month (the first was in 2013).
Dan Knechtges, TUTS artistic director, believes this show—which he’s directing and choreographing himself—compares favorably with standbys like A Christmas Carol or White Christmas.
“Elf seems like the problems we deal with today,” he says. “People work too hard. You feel like you’re the outsider going into a group of people who are all speaking the same language. Will all these strangers like me? While it’s not quite dealing with Christmas as the main theme, it is dealing with real-life situations, and in a very funny way with a lot of heart. You can’t help but love that.”
Knechtges found his Buddy in Quinn Van-Antwerp, a New York–based actor who has appeared in Better Call Saul and Broadway’s Jersey Boys. “He’s great,” the director says. “He’s very funny and has a childlike humor, which I think works really well for the part.”
The songs draw on an eclectic range of styles—gospel, vaudeville, Broadway ballads, and what Knechtges calls a “very Christmassy, holiday-Rockette kind of number”—to get audiences all warm and fuzzy. Says Knechtges, “You’ve gotta embrace the snow, you’ve gotta have your hot cocoa and put in as much sugar as possible to show the love.”
► Elf: The Musical, Dec. 7–22. From $40. Hobby Center, 800 Bagby St. 713-558-8887. tuts.com