"Elf, The Musical!" Rehearsal

Logan Derby, left, playing "Michael," and Ryan Zierk, right, playing "Buddy," take part in a rehearsal for the Rochester Civic Theatre Company's production of "Elf, The Musical!" Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019, in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

Directing a play that is already sold out before it even opens creates an interesting challenge for Craig Johnson.

"I said to the cast, 'Well, I guess we have to do it now,'" said Johnson, who is directing "Elf: The Musical" at the Rochester Civic Theatre. "We're already a hit, but now we have to deliver."

The show, which opens Friday, has become a popular holiday season offering for community and professional theaters in recent years. "Elf: The Musical" is based on the 2003 movie starring Will Ferrell as a boy accidentally transported to the North Pole and raised as one of Santa's elves. The stage musical was developed seven years later.

"It's part of the new tradition of Broadway to find a successful movie and do a nice, professional stage musical version of it," Johnson said. "This one has really found its legs in the past few years."

Developing a stage play based on a movie can be a dicey proposition. Audiences are likely familiar with the story, and they have favorite scenes they're expecting to see.

"You have to anchor the beloved moments from the film, as well as satisfy everyone from 5 to 85 coming to enjoy it," Johnson said. The fact that the show is a Christmas story helps it overcome the notion that it's only for kids, he said.

Johnson is directing a cast of 25, including children (as elves) and adults; local amateurs and professional actors. There are a couple of big production numbers, including one set in Macy's Department store, and another on a skating rink in New York's Central Park.

Along the way, Elf is sent back home by Santa to find his father, and to share the spirit of Christmas with those he meets.

"The North Pole isn't his home," Johnson said. "He has to find his father and his world."

In that regard, he said, "Elf: The Musical" shares the theme of an orphan trying to find a family with popular shows like "Annie" and "Oliver."

"It's sweet, but it's not cloying," Johnson said of "Elf." "There's a lot for people to engage in."

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