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By Barbara Trainin Blank
David Schlumpf had just finished injecting humanity into a part often played only for comic relief – Luther Billis in “South Pacific” at Olney Theatre Center.
A day after that production ended, he was starting rehearsals for the leading role in a show that combines humor and pathos.
It’s Buddy, in “Elf the Musical,” the 2010 Broadway musical based on the 2003 film “Elf,” with Will Ferrell.
In both movie and show, Buddy discovers he’s not an elf but a human adopted by elves. He sets out to find his father – and brings badly-needed Christmas spirit to the Big Apple.
The physical demands of both roles “have been a little hard on my knees,” admitted Schlumpf, but as a relative newcomer to DC, he said it’s “important to be seen.”
“Elf the Musical” involves bouncy balls – doubling as Christmas ornaments – as well as tap dancing, jumping rope and roller skating.
“It was a big part of middle- and high-school years,” the actor said. “But I haven’t been on skates in 20 years.
Ironically, the first role he ever had, while in elementary school, was the opposite of Buddy – the grumpy, miserly Ebenezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol.”
Schlumpf said he’s no Scrooge, hut also acknowledged there’s been a change in his attitude since the movie “Elf” came out.
“It wouldn’t have been so interesting to me five years ago,” he explained.
Now Buddy’s message in the closing monologue – that Santa’s sleigh runs not on reindeer but on magic, familial love, and camaraderie – really jumped out at him.
One reason is his romantic life. Schlumpf is now engaged – “which makes me less cynical than I was” he laughed. Now he appreciates Buddy’s “humanity and love, his ability to find childlike energy.”
Just as Billis is more than comical, so Buddy’s journey has “scary moments,” Schlumpf added.
He has to leave the place he thought of as home and search for the man he didn’t know was his father. “These scenes have been rewarding and are so deeply human, full of pathos.”
Michael J. Bobbitt, who is directing the production, said that in “Elf the Musical,” there’s a good match between the actor and the role.
“People tend to overplay the comedy in the show – which is a little tongue-in-cheek, and hammy,” said Bobbitt. “David is really funny, but also deeply moving, and sweet and honest.”
Bobbitt may be best known as the artistic director of Adventure Theatre and ATMTC Academy
But he also directs “outside productions,” to keep connected to the greater theater scene and get the face of his theater out to that scene.
“I also steal the best ideas and processes, whether creatively or administratively,” he laughed.
To those who know “Elf” the movie but not the derivative show, Bobbitt pointed out: “I love the musical. It takes the story to another level, which is even more appealing. It dramatizes the story further, and adds a long of singing and dancing and flashy costumes.”
“‘Elf the Musical’ is very entertaining but with a lot of heart and a lot of moving drama,” Bobbitt said.
Enhancing the show further, he added, is the fact that Olney has the capacity and space for a big Broadway show, which comes in handy when set pieces are expected to fly.
Angie Benson is music director. Tara Jeanne Vallee is the choreographer.
The book for “Elf: The Musical” is by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin. The music is by Matthew Sklar, and Chag Beguelin wrote the lyrics.
“Elf: The Musical” plays at Olney Theatre Center’s Mainstage, Nov. 9 through Jan. 6, at 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney. Call 301-924-3400, or visit: www.OlneyTheatre.org.