‘Elf’ musical staging amplifies lovable holiday movie

Patrick Dunn, Special to The Detroit News

“Elf,” the Christmas comedy film starring Will Ferrell as a human raised among Santa’s elves, has become something of a contemporary Christmas classic since its 2003 release. But in recent years, the movie’s story has taken on additional life as a musical play.

Director Sam Scalamoni says fans of the film will still find all their favorite moments in “Elf: The Musical,” which runs at the Fox Theatre Nov. 15-20. Buddy, the Ferrell character played by Spenser Micetich in the tour, runs through a revolving door and eats spaghetti with maple syrup onstage. But Scalamoni says the story is “amplified” by Broadway-style musical numbers and an increased focus on some supporting characters.

On stage, “Elf” characters Michael, left, and Buddy eat syrup-laced spaghetti.

Scalamoni says audiences have responded well to the play, with parents and grandparents enjoying the show’s family related humor and children enjoying Buddy’s antics.

“In fact, some of the lines (Buddy) says, people say them with him,” Scalamoni says. “People are such big fans of the movie.”

Actress Rachel Bahler, who plays Buddy’s stepmother Emily in the show, recalls thinking the movie was “the funniest thing in the world” when she first saw it shortly after it came out. But she says the story’s long-lasting appeal arises from more than just its humor.

“It’s kind of like a fish-out-of-water story,” says Bahler, a University of Michigan grad. “Buddy the elf points out things in our lives that he finds unusual because he lives in this idealistic, perfect world up in the North Pole and comes down. It’s sort of a nice comment on modern life.”

The cast surrounds Buddy in this scene from “Elf: The Musical.”

Although he wasn’t involved in the show’s two Broadway runs in 2010 and 2012, Scalamoni has directed multiple touring productions of the show every year since 2012. A self-professed “huge Christmas fan,” Scalamoni laughingly says the show’s producers “didn’t know what they were getting into” when they first hired him. Having grown up in the New York City area, where he still resides, Scalamoni says he was particularly enthused by the show’s New York City setting and the opportunity to “bring New York Christmas all around the country.”

But a close relationship with the show’s writers, Bob Martin and Thomas Meehan, allowed Scalamoni to preserve the story’s setting while making Martin and Meehan’s Broadway-friendly book more accessible.

“I went to Tom and Bob and I said, ‘It’s hysterically funny, but a lot of it is very New York-centric. Is there a way we can take some of the jokes and make them more appealing to the whole country?’ ” he says. “And they did that.”

Scalamoni says the show’s genuine emphasis on the importance of family is also key to his enjoyment of the project.

A scene from Christmastown in “Elf: The Musical.”

“It’s not saccharine sweet,” he says. “It’s just got a nice, honest heart, and I think people walk out a little more thoughtful about the holidays, which makes me come back every year wanting to tell that story.”

Scalamoni’s own family has played a bit of a role in his creative process over the years. His son and daughter are big fans of the movie and have sat in on rehearsals of the musical each year since 2012.

“As they’ve grown up, they get to be a little more of a critic,” Scalamoni says. “ ‘I don’t know about this casting, Dad. I don’t know if you got this right.’ I say, ‘Well, they’re still in rehearsal! Give them a break, guys!’ ”

Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer.

‘Elf: The Musical’

7:30 p.m. Nov. 15-19; 2 p.m. Nov. 19; 1 and 6:30 p.m. Nov. 20

Fox Theatre

2211 Woodward, Detroit

Tickets: $35-$75