From movie to musical: Becoming Buddy the Elf


Courtesy of the Iowa State Center

“Elf: the Musical” comes to Ames at 7:30 p.m., Nov. 15, at CY Stephens Auditorium. 

Melissa Garrett

Bringing the beloved tale of “Buddy the Elf” to the stage, the Broadway show “Elf: The Musical” brings Christmas cheer and holiday spirit to Ames at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 15, at Stephens Auditorium.

Having just graduated from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, actor Eric Williams was looking for new audition music when he found a YouTube video of the original Buddy the Elf, Sebastian Arcelus, singing “World’s Greatest Dad” and learned it immediately.

“I heard [the] song and I instantly thought to myself, ‘I love this song. I have to sing this song, and I have to play [Buddy] at some point,’” Williams said.

Williams was one of hundreds of actors auditioning in New York City for the role of Buddy and was given scenes and music from the show to sing and dance to for his audition. After a number of callbacks and auditions, Williams got his dream role of playing Buddy the Elf.

“I was hoping to be in the show, regardless of what part I played, because this show is such an amazing musical, but I will say playing Buddy was the ultimate dream, and the fact that that happened is really the most exciting thing I’ve worked on,” Williams said.

Based on the 2003 New Line Cinema hit film “Elf,” the musical features songs from Tony Award nominees Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin, the lyricist for “The Wedding Singer.” A book by Tony Award winners Thomas Meehan, writer of “Annie,” “The Producers” and “Hairspray” and Bob Martin, playwright for “The Drowsy Chaperone,” is also featured.

Upon receiving the script, Williams said he experienced a roller coaster of emotions, but he has had the most fun working on “Elf” since leaving New York with the “Elf” tour.

“I think we’re very lucky because writers did a really good job of adapting the script from the movie. They took all the favorite iconic parts from the movie that really made it a modern classic and put them into the musical,” Williams said. “It’s all original music, [but] it’s really a great balance of seeing something that you recognize but also still being surprised at things you didn’t know would be there.”

After asking Williams if he was forced to eat spaghetti with maple syrup on it for the show, one of the film’s iconic moments, Williams laughed and said, “It was a pleasant surprise. It tastes really good. That’s sort of how I’m similar to Buddy. I have a big ol’ sweet tooth.”

Williams said he has always wanted to be an actor and moved from St. Louis, Missouri to the Big Apple, which is similar to the journey Buddy takes upon leaving the North Pole in search of his father in New York City.

“Thinking about going to New York for the first time, I know how I felt the first time I walked down the streets of New York. It didn’t feel real at first,” Williams said. “I’m sure Buddy feels the same way about every type of person you see in New York, [so] I almost think he has kind of a reaction that most people would have, and that’s just being in awe of what surrounds him.”

In performing the role made popular by Hollywood actor Will Ferrell, Williams said he does not feel pressured to become Ferrell’s version of Buddy.

“[Ferrell is] so honest and just has a great spirit in the movie, so what I’ve thrived on is to just try and bring that same spirit to it while honoring everything he has done and kind of taking his steps as well,” Williams said.

“I think when I was first rehearsing, [my] biggest goal was to allow my own energy and excitement to come through but still honor what Buddy is all about, and I think that what I found is the really great marriage of the really beautiful moments that Buddy has but also the comedy and the touching parts of it.”

Williams said he loves how the show provides “the Will Ferrell aspect,” but he said actors bring their own uniqueness to the character while staying true to Ferrell’s Buddy.

“The show is really centered around Buddy’s love and his excitement for finding his family and showing people the meaning of Christmas,” Williams said. “The whole show is not only hilarious and about the holidays, but it’s really about family and the connections you make and about believing.

As much as Williams enjoys acting, he acknowledges the challenges of being an actor and how he must live in the moment, since he said much of his profession is trying to find the next job.

“What I really focused on with doing “Elf” is taking it day by day and enjoying the experience,” Williams said. “Of course you want to be constantly working, but you don’t want to just keep waiting for the next thing, so I’ve tried every day to feel grateful to be doing such an incredible show with this team of Broadway artists and enjoy every moment of playing Buddy.”

For Williams, Buddy the Elf, along with every element of the show, such as direction from Sam Scalamoni and choreography by Connor Gallagher, is the perfect combination.

“I get to sing incredible music. I get to be, hopefully, very funny and I get to act some really touching and powerful scenes, so it’s a dream role and a dream job,” Williams said. “Buddy is just a very loving and excited person that just wants everyone to believe and everyone around him to be happy because he is just the happiest. I love Buddy so much. It’s just a pleasure to be playing him.”

Complementing the show, Patti Cotter, development and sponsorship manager at the Iowa State Center, said the doors to Stephens Auditorium open at 6:30 p.m. to offer family-oriented crafts. These include making ornaments, counting down to Christmas and a chance to take pictures with a cutout of Buddy the Elf, which she calls an “elfie-selfie,” before the show begins.

Tickets for the show are available through Ticketmaster and are also available for purchase at the Stephens Auditorium ticket office from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Tickets range between $28 and $45 for ISU students and anyone age 18 and under. For adults, prices range between $24 and $63.

For more information on tour dates and ticket information, visit the website of “Elf: the Musical” and the Iowa State Center’s event page for “Elf: The Musical.” For more information on Williams, visit his website.