Comfort and joy at the holidays will be present in the new Quad City Music Guild production, “Elf The Musical,” opening Wednesday night at the Prospect Park theater, 1584 34th Ave., Moline.
While “Elf” has been done twice at Circa ’21 in Rock Island, this is the first time for Music Guild. The 2010 musical is based on the 2003 movie of the same name, which starred Will Ferrell as the iconic Buddy the elf, with a score by Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin. The book is adapted by Bob Martin and Thomas Meehan from the film.
The musical ran on Broadway in the Christmas seasons of 2010–11 and 2012–13, in the West End in the 2015–16 season, and has also toured extensively. In the story, young orphan Buddy mistakenly crawls into Santa’s bag of gifts and is transported to the North Pole.
The would-be elf is raised, unaware that he is actually a human until his enormous size and poor toy-making abilities cause him to face the truth. With Santa’s permission, Buddy embarks on a journey to New York City to find his birth father and discover his true identify. Faced with the harsh realities that his father is on the naughty list and his half-brother doesn’t even believe in Santa, Buddy is determined to win over his new family and help New York remember the true meaning of Christmas.
The 30-person QCMG cast is directed by Kevin Pieper, who also has directed other holiday-themed shows at Guild – “A Christmas Carol,” “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.”
“They provide a good atmosphere for everybody just to start out the holidays,” he said this week. “It’s usually fairly early in the holiday calendar so it kind of kicks off the season for people and it’s just enjoyable.”
Pieper is a longtime QCMG veteran performer, but he really likes taking on directing roles as well.
“You get to help bring people along, their characters and see them develop and grow, and become hopefully what your vision is on stage,” he said. “Whereas performing, it’s more becoming that character and getting to enjoy being somebody else for a few hours every night.”
The cast includes David Edwards as Buddy; Stephanie Moeller as Jovie; Mark McGinn as Walter; Jennifer Cook Gregory as Emily; Jack Carslake as Michael, and Jess Fah as Deb.
Debuting as Elf
Edwards, a 2009 Bettendorf High alum, is making his Guild debut as Buddy. He did a lot of theater in high school then in college, as a vocal performance major at Iowa State University.
When he moved from Ames back to the QC in 2019, Edwards played the lead (Finch) in First Presbyterian Church’s production of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”
Edwards, who works as a teller at Family Credit Union in Bettendorf, said his fiancée Maggie and her mom encouraged him to try out for “Elf,” since he loves theater and is tall (6-foot-3).
“It’s been the fastest roller coaster I’ve ever been on,” he said of Music Guild. “It’s been so much fun.”
Edwards said he’s a real introvert and doesn’t share Buddy’s boundless exuberance and outgoing nature.
“Buddy has his own energy and his own character,” he said. “And it’s amazing when the overture hits and people come out in their costumes and it’s just been so fun to get lost in this character.”
Edwards is excited to see how the area is connecting with the show, even before opening when they had to add an extra matinee Saturday (for the long weekend, six-performance run).
“It’s been a thrill, the support that I’ve gotten from the community here,” he said. “It’s astonishing, I’m extremely grateful.”
It’s been a challenge to do the role without copying Will Ferrell in the movie.
“To not copy him is very hard because there’s so many iconic moments that people — as soon as they find out you auditioned for the shows — they start quoting at you lines,” Edwards said. “But this is a musical, this is not the movie. So that’s been helpful to remember, too. It’s been so fun to hear the harmonies come in and dance. There’s so much holiday spirit.”
Edwards is planning to get married next June and wants to continue being in Guild shows.
“I would love to be at least one Guild show a year for the rest of my life, is my plan,” he said.
Veterans add perspective
Stephanie Moeller is a QC veteran theater actress, whose Music Guild credits include “Disaster” and “Something Rotten” this past year, as well as “Sound of Music,” “Anything Goes,” “Into the Woods” and “Working.”
“I think the community is very, very good here,” she said. “They are supportive and wonderful.”
Moeller has never seen the movie “Elf,” and auditioned specifically because a co-worker of hers asked her to. Moeller is a veterinary technician at Animal Family Veterinary Care Center in Davenport.
“She doesn’t do theater. She was just very excited that ‘Elf’ was being done. She asked me to audition,” she recalled. “She said you have to be in it.”
This is Moeller’s first holiday show at Guild. “It’s been a great time. It’s a really fun show,” she said.
Mitchell Carter, the music director, has become the go-to music director for Guild holiday shows, starting in late 2017 with “Annie,” then “Miracle at Bedford Falls” (2018), “Best Christmas Pageant Ever” (2019), and “Holiday Inn” (2021).
“They keep bringing me back which is always a good sign,” he said. “It makes me feel like I must have not screwed up the last show too bad.”
His full-time job is band director for 5th and 6th grades at Davenport’s Buchanan, Truman and Jefferson schools.
Carter is a percussionist and has played for a number of QC area concerts and shows (including some opera at Genesius Guild, Rock Island), but not for Music Guild or other community theater.
The holiday shows are special since they typically involve more kids, he said. “It’s definitely my sign of like, it’s time to get into the Christmas spirit, even though it starts each year around September,” Carter said, noting “Elf” will be extra special since it’s Guild’s last holiday show.
Next November, earlier in the month (Nov. 10-19, 2023), they will stage the classic Sondheim thriller “Sweeney Todd.”
“That’s always been a challenge, having done so many holiday shows,” Carter said of Guild competing with other QC holiday events around now. “We’re always working around Thanksgiving and illness and school programs and other musicians in the area. But it always does make a really special production.”
He is very impressed with the “Elf” musical.
“It’s a fabulous production; I’ve been really impressed with the way that the show writers and composers and everyone kind of put this musical together in a way that is faithful to the movie, but still maintain some of its own unique character,” Carter said.
What music and song does in general is to elevate emotions in every scene, he noted.
“It brings things to life, it allows you to experience the characters’ emotion a little more deeply,” Carter said. “And so when Buddy is sad, the music really kinda takes you up one more level. It really elevates that experience for the audience member to pull on another emotional heart string for you.
“Or if it’s a joyful moment, it really kinda makes your smile turn up a little, like one inch higher,” he said.
Carter also has been thrilled with Edwards, since he came to audition in September.
“He was really just able to bring to life, we saw that little bit of a sparkle, almost a childlike joy in the reading and then just an absolutely stellar voice that we knew was going to do this work justice,” the music director said, noting Buddy is on stage for nearly the entire run time of the show.
“This is a character study of a show. It’s Buddy the Elf from beginning to end,” Carter said. There’s like five minutes where Buddy’s not on stage and not singing and so it’s an endurance test. The background of a classically trained singer really has been a benefit because he can sing through that two-hour show.”
Performances of “Elf” will be 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, with 2 p.m. shows on Saturday, Dec. 3 and Sunday, Dec. 4. Tickets are $16 for adults and $11 for children, available by calling 309-762-6610 or visiting the QCMG website.