'Elf The Musical' Anticipation, Excitement Build

Nov 01, 2019

Cal U is the first educational theater in the area to secure the rights to the stage version of the holiday classic. Performances are Nov. 21-24 in Steele Hall.

  • - Buddy (Jeromy Mackey) and Manager (Noah Dohanich).

A gift that came last July for Cal U’s Department of Music and Theatre will be a special holiday treat for many right before Thanksgiving. 

Last summer Music Theatre International made a license to perform the stage version — Elf The Musical — available to educational and amateur theaters, and Cal U has secured the production for 2019 and 2020. 

Elf The Musical, based on the 2003 motion picture starring Will Ferrell, will be performed in the Mainstage Theatre of Steele Hall at 7 p.m. Nov. 21-23, with matinees at 2 p.m. Nov. 23-24. 

“It is quite exciting for us to be the first (such) theater in Western Pennsylvania to be given the rights to produce the show,” said performance director Dr. Michele Pagen, professor and co-chair of the Department of Music and Theatre. “When we were waiting for notification that summer morning it was much like waiting to secure tickets for Elton John or Cher! 

"MTI plans to put the show back into the vault, and Cal U will be the first to produce the show in Western Pennsylvania.” 

This modern holiday classic follows Buddy the Elf in his quest to find his true identity. 

Landing the challenging lead role is junior Honors Program student Jeromy Mackey, a dual major in theater and English. 

“The hardest part of playing this role is that there’s only one scene that Buddy is off-stage, so once the show starts I am singing, dancing and acting pretty much the whole time,” said Mackey. “Maintaining my energy to the end is probably my biggest challenge.” 

Another challenge: The movie version is very well known, which brings many expectations for the role. Fortunately, Mackey says, he faced a similar challenge as a freshman when he portrayed Jason “J.D.” Dean in Heathers: The Musical

“People remember scenes from the movie and expect you do it a certain way, so I am sort of figuring out what I am going to do that’s based off the movie but also what I am going to do that’s unique to me,” he said. 

“Finding that balance is a tricky thing.” 

Mackey also has experience as an elf, having played Norbert in last year’s production of The Happy Elf

“He was kind of a villain and now I get to play a super-fun, carefree, energetic elf, which is a blast.” 

Town and Gown

The show, which sees community members joining Cal U students onstage and behind the scenes, is open to the public. 

Pagen says Cal U’s theater history with the community dates back to the early ’90s with the annual production of The Nutcracker

“Theater, by nature, brings communities together, and by inviting members of the community to take the stage with us, we are personalizing the experience for folks,” she said. 

“We enjoy having them on stage with us, and they enjoy watching the college students journey through their years at Cal U. We know that we are better as a program, as a department, and as a university, by having the community with us each year.” 

Anticipation Builds

Releasing the rights to Elf The Musical to non-professional groups has caused considerable excitement. Mackey says Cal U’s early production of the holiday classic enhances the momentum. 

“Being the first or one of the first certainly in our geographic area is really neat and helps create a buzz,” he said. “When you stop and think about the significance of this, there’s certainly some pressure. But this is the most excited and hardest I have ever worked in a role. 

“This is really special, and all of us are pumped to show audiences what we’ve been working on.” 

As an educator, Pagen said the show aligns with the department goals of having challenging roles for the students to dive into. Big ensemble numbers require everyone to be a "triple threat"--equally strong actors, singers, and dancers. 

“I get such joy out of watching a student develop a fully-realized character who has a history and goals and relationships,” Pagen said. “Our students have been hard at work developing their own version, and I’ve waited anxiously for this wonderful opportunity to be released to us.” 


Ticket price is $12 for adults; $6 for those 60 and older and 12 and younger. Cal U students with valid CalCards pay a $5 deposit that is refunded at the show.   

For ticket information, or to charge tickets by phone, call the Steele Hall Box Office at 724-938-5943. 

Opening Night Reception

An opening night reception will be held at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 21 in Kara Alumni House. Guests can mingle with theater patrons and President Geraldine Jones. The menu will include hearty appetizers — and perhaps the four main Elf food groups, candy, candy corn, candy canes and syrup!

Cost is $30 and includes a ticket to the show, which begins at 7. Proceeds benefit Cal U theater legacy projects and all are welcome. For reception tickets please visit  https://tinyurl.com/caluelf or email alumni@calu.edu or call 724-938-4418.