‘Elf: The Musical’ brings charismatic characters to Milford

Jose Bernard, center, as Buddy the Elf, leads cast members in a dance scene from Second Streeet Players’ “Elf: The Musical” at Riverfront Theater in Milford. (Delaware State News/Jennifer Antonik)

MILFORD — Buddy the Elf is making his grand debut at Second Street Players’ Riverfront Theater this weekend along with his new family and the whole crew.

As an added bonus, “Elf: The Musical” will run for three weekends in a row at the downtown location.

“This is the longest production I’ve ever had. Most of the ones I’ve done were just one weekend or two weekends. I’m just hoping we get a nice big crowd and we keep up this energy the whole time. I feel like we have a great big cast and we all feed off of each other very well, so I just hope we feed off of that energy,” said Autumn Birney of Smyrna, who plays the role of Jovie.

The show is Ms. Birney’s first theatrical performance at Riverfront Theater. Others, like Jose Bernard of Dover who plays Buddy and Tony Gerdes of Greenwood who plays Buddy’s father Walter, are Second Street veterans.

“It’s exciting to play Buddy here. It’s a great group of people to work with,” Mr. Bernard said.

In the show based on the Will Ferrell comedy, Mr. Bernard plays the charismatic orphan who climbs into Santa’s bag of gifts and is taken to the North Pole where he is raised as an elf. As the human grew, problems and questions about his Elf-like status arose.

Julianna Markel portrays an elf in “Elf: The Musical” at Riverfront Theater in Milford. The Second Street Players’ production starts Friday.

As an adult, Buddy makes it to New York City in search of his biological family but is faced with another problem – his father Walter denies the man as son until a DNA test proves otherwise.

“Buddy is determined to win over his new family and help New York remember the true meaning of Christmas,” according to Riverfront Theater’s description of the play.

“It’s a really fun role, but it’s been hard to not go over the top with the role. I don’t want to create a caricature of the character. I want it to be believable,” Mr. Bernard said during a recent rehearsal.

Mr. Gerdes said his role as Buddy’s father is also fun to play, although challenging.

“It’s kind of funny. During one of the songs where I turn to the cast and say, ‘Help me out,’ I’ve had my biological children tell me, ‘That’s not acting. We’ve heard you say those things to us in getting us to clean the house,’” he said.

He and his wife Sue, who plays his wife Deb in the show, have seven children altogether, two of which are in “Elf the Musical,” also.

“It’s fabulous, it really is. My degree in college was theater arts and it’s a passion of mine. As we had kids, they became the priority and doing activities with them. But now, we’ve, my wife and I, have enjoyed our own acting in the theater and to see our kids following along has just been fabulous because we’re doing this as a family,” Mr. Gerdes said.

Walter, played by Tony Gerdes, finds out Buddy the Elf, played by Jose Bernard, is actually his son.

“This is a very hard-working cast. And a lot of times we’re put in a position where we’re uncomfortable. And that, I think, has just been, we’re taking risks. We’ve challenged each other to lean in on each other a little bit more, which gives us a better connection which makes it exciting.”

The excitement is what Mr. Bernard and other cast members hopes will last through the duration of their performances.

“We have to do this production nine times and every single time is going to be an audience member’s first time. So, we want to present them with that same intensity, that same emotion, from the very first show to the very last show if not building on it,” he said.

“For me, it’s really about making a memorable experience for every single audience member. I want them walking out of here humming the songs, or I want them to, a year from now, saying, ‘You know what, you remember last year when we went to see that show?’ I want this to be something that becomes a tradition for families in this area, to come and see the Christmas shows or family-oriented shows here at Riverfront.”

Autumn Birney, plays Jovie, who is on a date with Buddy the Elf.

“Elf: The Musical” will be performed at Riverfront Theater at 2 S. Walnut St. in Milford Fridays, Friday and Dec. 6 and 13 at 7 p.m., Saturday and Dec. 7 and 14 at 7 p.m. and Sunday and Dec. 8 and 15 at 2 p.m.

Reserved seats for the show are $20 each with a $1 discount offered to seniors and students for Sunday matinees. Tickets can be ordered online at www.secondstreetplayers.com.

“Come see the show. Bring your kids, bring your parents, bring your grandparents, bring your next-door neighbor whom you talk to twice a year, bring them to the show. You won’t be disappointed,” Mr. Bernard said.

Reach staff writer Jennifer Antonik at jantonik@newszap.com

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