'Elf the Musical' spreads Christmas cheer by singing loud for all to hear
Who knew that a contemporary fantasy film starring a crazy comedian as an oversized elf would join various top 10 lists of “best Christmas movies of all time” year after year?
And that the 2003 movie would inspire a Broadway musical and a national tour that’s winding its way across the country faster than Santa’s sleigh on Christmas Eve?
Eric Williams plays the part of Buddy the Elf that Will Ferrell made famous in the movie in the touring production of “Elf the Musical” coming to Pittsburgh for seven performances Dec. 26-30 at Heinz Hall. The show is being presented by Pittsburgh Cultural Trust as part of its PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh series.
Williams, an actor and comedian who grew up in St. Louis and lives in New York, says that Buddy was “one of those dream roles” he knew he wanted to do.
After graduating from New York University where he studied acting, he had an opportunity to audition to play the part and finally got the job.
He’s happy to be adding his comedic touch to the holiday production.
“I love Will Ferrell so much; he’s one of the most talented comedians in the business,” Williams says. “I thought of it as a challenge as I dug deeper into the part. I took the sincere qualities of his performance, and after capturing that same excitement and honesty, I added my own twist to it. The role is so special to me because I get to find that honesty while combining the insanity and silliness of Buddy, which is my favorite thing to play.”
The magic of theater
One of Williams’ favorite parts of “Elf” is performing the original song, “World’s Greatest Dad,” from the Broadway musical. In the show, Buddy is an orphan growing up at the North Pole — where he ended up after crawling into Santa’s bag of gifts as a kid.
He’s trying to be a good elf but can’t get the knack of making toys, so Santa allows him to take a trip to New York City to find his birth father and learn his true identity.
“The song starts with Buddy saying what life would be like when he meets his father,” Williams says, “and all of a sudden, we’re transported to New York and the song becomes a big Broadway number that’s all about the magic of theater.”
Buddy has some work to do to get his father’s name off of Santa’s Naughty List and teach his half-brother — who doesn’t even believe in Santa – about the real meaning of Christmas.
The role is a very physical one, Williams says, and he’s onstage for the entire first act. He reveals his secret “life support” during the show is a bottle of Gatorade he keeps hidden behind a set piece onstage for extra energy.
He is looking forward to the Pittsburgh performances of “Elf,” he says, since his mother grew up in Squirrel Hill and his parents — now living in St. Louis — were married at Tree of Life Synagogue.
“I’m so excited about getting to Pittsburgh where my mom’s side of the family, including 20 aunts, uncles and cousins, will be coming to the show,” he says. Williams appeared off Broadway as Danny Tanner with Perez Hilton in “Full House the Musical,” and played Buddy in a previous national tour of “Elf” and Papa Who in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”
Sam Scalamoni, director of “Elf the Musical,” says the production is being well received because it delivers a holiday message without being “saccharine sweet.”
“It does tap into that emotion of holiday time in a nice contemporary way that’s accessible today, that doesn’t feel old and clunky,” he says.
Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.