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Neighbors: Community theater groups in Decatur to stage ‘ELF: The Musical’


DECATUR – Get ready for a serving of the four food groups — candy, candy canes, candy corn and syrup — with a side of Christmas carols and holiday cheer.

“ELF: The Musical” opens Friday at the Princess Theatre at 7 with additional performances on Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets, if available, cost $18 for adults and $15 for children. As of Tuesday, fewer than 100 tickets remained for the three shows combined.

“What better way is there to celebrate the holidays than to see a Christmas classic in a new and fresh kind of way with everyone in town,” said Drew Sybert, who portrays Buddy the Elf.

Based on the popular 2003 movie starring Will Ferrell, the musical adaptation of “ELF” follows Buddy, a human raised by Santa and his elves, who leaves the North Pole for Manhattan to find his birth father.

“All those moments that make the movie great are there — the spaghetti, the Santas, the elves, the Christmas spirit, the hustle and bustle of New York and all those funny one-liners we have plastered on Christmas sweaters,” Sybert said.

Along with the classic scenes, the musical features original songs including “Christmastown,” “World’s Greatest Dad,” “Sparklejollytwinklejingley,” “I’ll Believe in You,” “A Christmas Song” and more.

“You’re going to go home humming these songs and will add them to your Christmas list because they are so catchy,” director Deanna Knox said. “Probably my favorite is when all the Santa Clauses, who have been working all season, come into a Chinese restaurant and realize people have lost the Christmas spirit. They do the cutest number about how nobody cares about Santa anymore.”

Preparations for the holiday musical began in September when more than 100 people auditioned for the show.

“It has been a wonderful ride. This has been one of my very favorite shows with one of my very favorite casts to direct. I feel so blessed and fortunate to be at the helm of this. It is going to be a magical show,” Knox said.

One of the people responsible for bringing magic to the show is Sybert.

“Drew is bringing a freshness to the role of Buddy,” Knox said. “You see his character transition from the naiveté of a child to learning things about life, but still keeping the positivity and fun in his life. This role was written for Drew. He’s the best Buddy I’ve ever seen.”

To re-create the role made famous by Ferrell, Sybert focused on embracing a child-like personality.

“Children are less reserved in the way they express emotion,” Sybert said. “I try to not to get caught up in how I look to everybody around me, but just try to let the emotion I’m feeling come out.”

Sybert will share the stage with a 62-member cast, including the husband-and-wife team of Bailey and Caroline Gammill.

“Of course, there’s absolutely no pressure in playing this role,” Bailey Gammill, who portrays Santa, said with a laugh. “In this show, Santa is Buddy’s surrogate father at the North Pole. When Buddy learns he’s human, he helps to pick him up and point him on his journey.”

Caroline Gammill takes on the role of Deb, Walter Hobbs’ secretary.

“Deb is a hoot. My story for her is she is stuck in this corporate job, but she’s wild and fun. You get to see peeks of her personality come through when Buddy comes in the office. One of my favorite moments is the dance scene she has with Buddy,” Caroline Gammill said.

Along with Sybert and the Gammills, the cast features Lacey Davenport as Jovie, Dana McCutcheon as Mrs. Claus, David Yarbrough as Walter Hobbs, Erika Ladner as Emily Hobbs, Aiden Hodges as Michael Hobbs, Lilly Beth Cress as Tiara, Robert Holcomb as Charlie, Ben Callahan as Macy’s manager, Taylor Naumann as Mr. Greenway and Macy’s fake Santa, Lane Dobbs as Chadwick and Jennifer Crowe as Matthews.

To transform the Princess Theatre into the North Pole, the production team built a sleigh, created costumes for Santa and the elves and secured projections.

“You’re going to button up your coat because you’re going to feel like you’ve traveled all the way to the North Pole. You’re going to see the Candy Cane Lane. The projections are amazing,” Knox said.

Creation of the costumes rested with Karen Stacy, who was assisted by Lacey Johnson and Rhee Jones.

“Karen designed and added all the embellishments and snowflakes to Buddy’s costume. She also handmade our Santa suit. We are very lucky because Karen was mentored by Paulette,” said Knox, referring to Paulette Morgan, a volunteer seamstress and costume designer for Dream Weavers, who died in 2021. “We love and miss her dearly and am so thankful she passed down some of her talents to Karen.”

This marks the first time the community theater groups Bank Street Players and Dream Weavers collaborated on a show.

“We decided as a joint effort for our community and in the spirit of the Christmas season that we would get together and do a show. Our community arts groups have the same purpose: We want people to love theater and be involved in theater,” Knox said. “We’re not doing this to get paid. We’re doing this for the love of theater and to give back to our community.”


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