Christmas movies are ruling the local stage.
When “Elf: The Musical,” a buoyant Broadway adaptation of the 2003 Will Ferrell movie, stops at Saroyan Theatre on Wednesday for a two-performance run, it joins a couple of other holiday-movie theatrical experiences drawing enthusiastic audiences in Fresno: “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” at the 2nd Space Theatre, and “A Christmas Story: The Musical” at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater. (Another, “White Christmas,” just closed at College of the Sequoias.)
If you’re looking for a new way to experience a favorite movie, this month is a Christmas feast.
The movie version of “Elf,” in which Farrell played a human named Buddy raised as a North Pole elf, is on its way to becoming a cult classic, says Ken Clement, in his fourth year of playing Santa in the touring production. “The movie is a phenomenon,” he says.
The play squeezes in many of the film’s best funny bits as we follow Buddy from the North Pole to New York as he tracks down his biological father, spreading Christmas cheer as he bumbles through the cynicism of the big city.
“Most of it is here: the favorite lines, the favorite moments, all the characters,” Clement says.
Yes, there’s the syrup-on-spaghetti scene, one of those moments in which Buddy adds something new to the dictionary of American cuisine.
Added to that are the song-and-dance numbers, which increases the festive feel. Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin wrote the show’s score, which has an “old Broadway” sound with a big-band feel, Clement says.
“Elf: The Musical” proved a popular title on Broadway in 2010 and 2011 seasonal runs. But given the subject matter, the title can’t play for more than a few months each year, which makes it harder to sustain a New York production. The solution: Go on tour, which the show did in 2012.
For the fourth year, Clement reported for rehearsals in October in New York, preparing for a November tour start. (Fresno landed a prime spot in terms of timing for the show, which will come just a couple of weeks before Christmas.) His role as Santa has practically become a tradition.
Considering the jocularity of the movie, it’s no surprise that Clement’s Santa has his quirky side.
“When I started the show, he was described to me as a ‘beer and pizza’ Santa Claus,” Clement says. “He’s a little bit Dumbledore (from ‘Harry Potter’), he’s a little bit Genie from ‘Aladdin.’ He’s got a little bit of Yoda from ‘Star Wars’ in him. But he’s also a little bit Skipper from ‘Gilligan’s Island.’ ”
Santa also acts as the show’s narrator, and Clement – a theater veteran of more than 250 productions – gets the chance to ad lib and banter with the audience, including throwing in local references.
Sometimes Clement meets “real” Santas in the cities where he tours, sometimes in conjunction with an official appearance for the show, and he marvels at their dedication, right down to the real beards. (“The rest of the year, they’re probably competing in Ernest Hemingway look-alike contests,” he cracks.)
For him, “Elf” is a way to receive Christmas cheer as well as spread it to others. Sometimes it can be nice to indulge in a warm look back at a favorite movie.
“It’s my Christmas present to myself,” he says. “I lost my father at Christmas, and this helps to get a little more Christmas spirit, to find a little more joy in this holiday.”
Elf: The Musical
- 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday
- Saroyan Theatre, 700 M St.