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SACT's production of Elf, the Musical a sold-out hit

St. Albert Children's Theatre costume, set designers help capture holiday magic

The popularity of the St. Albert Children's Theatre upcoming production has exceeded all expectations: for the first time in the youth theatre’s 40-plus year history, the winter show sold out two weeks before opening. 

The SACT opens Elf: The Musical at the Arden Theatre on Thursday, Dec. 23.

Based on the Will Ferrell movie, the production brings the holiday classic to life in a way that gives a nod to the golden age of Broadway musicals – dance, comedy, romance, and a parade of colour-popping costumes and sets. 

Most Christmas aficionados know the story of Buddy (Connor Woodley), a young boy who crawls in Santa’s sleigh and is accidentally transported to the North Pole. Raised as an elf, he grows up with Santa as a father figure. But when he learns Walter Hobbs (Aidan Spila), a hard-nosed business executive is his father, Buddy decides to visit New York. 

As a fish out of water glowing with super-charged enthusiasm, he struggles to find acceptance. But his sincerity and joie de vivre are just what the more dour characters who have lost the spirit of Christmas need. 

Most of the 43-member cast (eight of whom are adults) began rehearsals with director Janice Flower in early September. And their hard work singing about 15 songs will be recognized with applause and standing ovations. 

But there are two professional designers working behind the scenes who deserve their own special brand of recognition. Costume designer Lieke den Bakkar (Frog and Toad), is a graduate from the University of Alberta design program. Working with her on set design is Karli Christie, who has a diploma in makeup artistry and degree in theatre design from the University of Alberta. 

Costumes and sets are more than mere props. They are a production’s silent characters, conveying information without speaking a word. The costume designer treatment reinforces a character's personality within the clothing. And a set designer creates the environment, the ambience an audience is transported to. 

“I wanted to find a play that adults and children alike could celebrate the season together, especially the way the world is in turmoil. Elf was the best way to bring about Christmas cheer,” said director Janice Flower. 

As the primary costumer, den Bakkar has lost count of the number of outfits she’s prepared. 

“At least 100, maybe more,” den Bakkar said adding that each costume has several pieces, as well as coordinating shoes. Working with a limited budget, resources and time, she raided the company's stock, purchased clothing from thrift stores, sewn more than 12 North Pole jackets for elves, and even rented a few big pieces, such as Santa’s red embroidered suit.  

“The sheer size of the cast has been a challenge. To keep track of everything, especially since things keep changing, has been difficult.” 

As a designer, her colour palette varies from character to character depending on their personality. For instance, Buddy’s green costume with a white fur collar and yellow tights stays true to the movie. 

“The moment Connor put on the costume, it turned him into the character. Connor is a very good actor and he’s able to transform quickly. He zipped up the jacket and as soon as he put it on, he switched.” 

For Jovi (Hannah Adamson), Buddy’s love interest, den Bakkar has created four outfits that display her changing personality. Initially, Jovi is introverted and hates Christmas. Her outfits are dark, but as the holiday spirit envelopes her, the attire becomes brighter and lighter. 

On the set-design end, Karli Christie is tasked with creating environments that vary from the North Pole workshop to Macy’s department store to Rockefeller Centre to Central Park and a restaurant. 

“We have lots of scenic dressing. Things fly in and out. Trees move back and forth. Snowflakes fall from a snow machine. And we have a giant 20-foot Rockefeller tree that lights up. It’s two-dimensional and flies in,” said Christie. She has worked on a string of SACT shows including Little Mermaid, Elf Jr., Christmas Carol and Tuck Everlasting

Having worked on two Elf productions, she believes the show is about finding oneself. 

“Buddy doesn’t know who he is until he finds his family and community and discovers himself," Christie said. "It’s also about bringing a community together. His dad is a workaholic and never spends any time with his younger son.” 

She says Elf is a terrific way to stoke the Christmas spirit.

Elf is funny and entertaining, and all in all, a good time.”   

Anna Borowiecki

About the Author: Anna Borowiecki

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