“The Happy Elf” is a tale about Eubie, the happiest elf at the North Pole, who longs to be on Santa’s sleigh team Christmas Eve but instead has been relegated to checking Santa’s naughty-and-nice list.
On the list, he discovers the town of Bluesville, where there is no Christmas and not a nice person in the entire town. Eubie decides to visit, hoping if he converts someone from naughty to nice that Santa might give him a place on his sleigh team.
He meets the mayor of Bluesville and suggests having Christmas will perk up the unhappy townspeople. The mayor tells him they’re sad and mad because all they do is work and they don’t want to have Christmas.
When his daughter, Molly, arrives at the mayor’s office, Eubie hopes to convince her to change her father’s mind, but she tells Eubie that she hates Christmas, too.
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“The Happy Elf” is a full-length musical comedy based on a 2005 animated Christmas television special, which featured the voice and music of Harry Connick Jr. It is being presented by The Theatre in the Park in the new Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center Black Box Theatre in Overland Park with an all-local cast.
The world premiere of “The Happy Elf” was in 2007 at the Coterie Theatre in Kansas City. This run started on Dec. 8 and continues through Dec. 24.
“We’re excited to bring ‘The Happy Elf’ back to the Kansas City area and to Johnson County as a new family holiday tradition ...,” said Guy Gardner, the director. “‘The Happy Elf’ is the perfect holiday show for all families. The story is filled with joy, laughter and is all brought together by some amazing new music for your family to enjoy. Harry Connick Jr.’s jazz is stamped all over this production and you’ll find yourself tapping your toes in the audience.”
Eubie is played by Colin Rohach, who said it’s a fun role to play.
“He’s so carefree and happy in his own world,” Rohach said. “He never loses the true meaning of Christmas. It makes me feel like I’m really working for Santa Claus. ... I saw the movie version of ‘The Happy Elf’ that featured Harry Connick Jr.’s singing. It was good but actually I like the play better. There is more singing and dancing in it.”
Rohach, 19, is a Leawood native and sophomore business finance major at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. He plans to attend law school after graduation, but hopes to remain active in theater after performing in five plays at Rockhurst High School and “Beauty and the Beast” last summer at Johnson County Theatre in the Park.
“I enjoy being back in the theater at the Arts & Heritage Center,” he said. “I played in ‘Grease’ when it opened the new Center. It was cool being involved in the first show in the theater.”
Rohach’s sister, Carrigan, a sophomore at Blue Valley North also performs in the play as Mrs. Claus.
Molly is portrayed by Bridget Walsh, 13, a student at Sacred Heart Catholic School in Shawnee. She has been in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” “Annie Warbucks” and “Honk” at The Theatre in the Park.
“I was in The Theatre in the Park’s camp last summer where I met Guy Gardner who is directing ‘The Happy Elf,’” Walsh said. “He suggested I try out for Molly and I did.”
She enjoys her role as the impetus behind Bluesville’s turnaround.
“Eubie knew if I really pressured my dad to give Christmas a chance in Bluesville he’d do it ... and he did,” Walsh said. “It turned out to be the right thing for the townspeople. ... Molly was kind of a brat at first, but Eubie convinced her to do what was the best for everyone. This is the first Christmas show I’ve been in. It makes you feel good inside. You want to make someone else happy, too.”
Clay Cartwright of Olathe plays the mayor: “He’s kind of a grouch and doesn’t like Christmas, but he’ll do anything for his daughter, Molly.”
This is Cartwright’s Theatre in the Park debut, but it’s a family affair that he hopes to continue.
“This is my first show at The Theatre in the Park,” he said. “I’d like to do more. It got me excited about Christmas. My son, Jonah, who’s 12, is in the show and that makes for more fun. He plays an elf.”
Emily Vargo of Gardne plays Gilda, who is one of Eubie’s best friends along with Hamm (John Alden of Olathe). Santa Claus is portrayed by Mike Brown of Kansas City. Alyson Golladay, also of Kansas City, portrays Gurt, the mayor’s wife, while Fritz Sullivan, plays Norbert, Eubie’s boss who tries to keep him off Santa’s sleigh team.
“The Happy Elf” runs through Dec. 24. Showtimes are at 7:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Ticket prices are $14.50 for 10 years old and under, $14.85 for seniors and $16.50 for adults. There is a 20-percent discount for Sunday matinees.