How ELF became an instant holiday tradition on stage and screen

by John Moore | Dec 05, 2017
Elf The Musical Jeremy Daniel Photography
The cast of 'ELF The Musical,' which comes to Denver's Buell Theatre from Dec. 13-17. Jeremy Daniel Photography.

Director: 'ELF The Musical on tour is really its own entity, and we’re very proud of that.'

Elf, the 2003 Christmas movie, is America’s newest holiday classic. It ranks up there with It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story and Miracle on 34th Street. When Buddy, a 6-foot-plus man raised by elves, sets out to find his father, his rosy, optimistic and endearing outlook on humankind thaws even the coldest heart — his dad’s. Director Sam Scalamoni discusses how collaborators brought this iconic movie to life for the tour of ELF The Musical, visiting Denver's Buell Theatre from Dec. 13-17.

Tell us about your experience directing ELF The Musical on tour.

When they were planning the tour, the original Broadway director was unavailable. So they passed it to me and I brought on my choreographer and design team. We re-imagined the whole show from scratch. It was an amazing experience. We were able to work with the original writers: Matt Sklar [music], Chad Beguelin [lyrics], Bob Martin [book] and Tom Meehan [book]. They were incredible collaborators and they continue to work with us each year to refine it. ELF The Musical on tour is really its own entity, and we’re very proud of that.

Did the writers resist the changes you wanted?

Not at all – in fact, they really embraced our ideas. They see the tour or a run-through in the studio every year. So Tom will see it and might say, “This isn’t funny. This joke is working – this isn’t.” They had some strong opinions not only about things they wanted to keep, but some they wanted to change. For example, the second year the show was on Broadway they added a new song called “Happy All the Time.” It’s a very funny opening number Santa sings about how happy the elves are all the time and how he just needs a little break.

Whose idea was it to put the elves at the North Pole on their knees?

We came to the idea together. When we came to Gregg Barnes [the original Broadway costume designer who redesigned the show for the tour] with it he said, “Oh great, because I designed these amazing things; they’re called ‘knee shoes’” that wrap around the actors’ knees with a built-in kneepad. The actors are as comfortable as they can be and the shoes lay flat on the floor. It’s really brilliant.

Why do you think both the movie and now the musical have become such instant classics?

It’s one of the few contemporary films about the holidays that really connects with audiences. The fact that the story is present day with current content really strikes a
chord with people. 


ELF The Musical: Ticket information
elfAt a glance: Based on the beloved 2003 film, ELF The Musical is a modern day Christmas classic that is sure to make everyone embrace their inner ELF. Variety proclaims, “ELF is happy enough for families, savvy enough for city kids and plenty smart for adults."

  • National touring production
  • Performances Dec. 13-17
  • Buell Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex
  • Tickets start at $25
  • Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
  • Sales to groups of 10 or more click here
  • ASL Interpreted, Audio-Described and Open Captioned Performance: Dec. 16, 3 p.m.

ELF The Musical. Jeremy Daniel Photography.

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John Moore
John Moore
Award-winning arts journalist John Moore has recently taken a groundbreaking new position as the DCPA’s Senior Arts Journalist. With The Denver Post, he was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the US by American Theatre Magazine. He is the founder of the Denver Actors Fund, a nonprofit that raises money for local artists in medical need. John is a native of Arvada and attended Regis Jesuit High School and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Follow him on Twitter @moorejohn.

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