A Word From The Director Of ABT’s ‘Elf The Musical’

By Michael Whitney, Director, Elf The Musical at Arizona Broadway Theatre

“For inside every drop of water, if you look close enough, you will find an ocean.”

To me any theatre production, film, or piece of fine art allows the viewer to look at their own situation from a third person perspective to allow for analysis. If you take a moment to look at something that one would deem mundane, I bet you would be able to extrapolate plenty of beauty and or important thoughts from that idea once you take the time to examine it. At the start of designing ELF, I looked closely at the source material and asked myself, “What story did the film capture that allowed ELF to become such a modern classic?” After examination I landed on a myriad of themes, but the two that I felt would be most inclusive for our audience was the “Scrooge” element in the story, and the “fish out of water” theme that we all know. These human condition stories that have spanned literature became my key into creating not just a fun production with beautiful sets and costumes, but more importantly, a piece that audiences could relate to with characters to have empathy for right from the start.

In discussing all of this with my design team, and in creating a world in which the show would function, it was necessary to build a large and familiar juxtaposition between how Christmas is portrayed in Buddy’s home at the North Pole and that of Christmas in New York City. I ask you what is Christmas really about, and how does “Corporate Christmas” effect the holiday season? This question will help support Walter’s “Scrooge” element and make us re-think what is import about the holidays.

To help tell Buddy’s “fish out of water” story, it was very important to make New York City feel as real and gritty as possible, the exact opposite of our protagonist’s “Christmas Town.” This would also allow on a technical level for the humor to be heightened as the happy go lucky Buddy tries to navigate the mean streets of New York.

ELF truly has become a modern classic, and I wanted to support this. So in regards to the staging of the production, we designed our world to be as malleable and cinematic as possible. My hope was to create as many locations and moments that we all love and cherish from the film. We do this
by using rolling units that can literally dance on and off stage that allow for us to easily tip our hat to the film and create the splashy Broadway show that ELF truly is. My hope is that everyone leaving the theatre will not only enjoy the magic and Christmas spirit that was created onstage, but also feel as though they saw themselves within the characters, and have a bit more clarity or insight to what is truly important to them during the holiday season!