If you need a little jolt of holiday cheer to get into the Christmas spirit this year, Dan Johnson and dozens of Philomath High School students may have just the ticket.

The school's production of "Elf Jr., the Musical," under the direction of Johnson, the head of Philomath High School's music department, opens Thursday, Nov. 30 at 7 p.m. at the school.

The musical will have three other performances after opening night: At 7 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 1 and Saturday, Dec. 2 and a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday, Dec. 2.

"Elf Jr." is a slightly revised version of "Elf, the Musical," which is turn in based on the well-loved 2003 movie with Will Ferrell. 

The musical, which opened on Broadway in the 2010-11 holiday season, follows the plot of the Farrell movie fairly closely, but adds a variety of songs. The musical has returned to Broadway since its opening for holiday-season runs and national tours have traveled across the country as well.

Both the movie and the musical tell the story of Buddy (Joseph Johnson), an orphan who crawls into Santa's sack one Christmas Eve and is transported back to the North Pole. Santa (Jayson Kildea) and the elves decide to raise the baby as their own, but years later, Buddy learns that he's human. With Santa's urging, Buddy heads off to New York City to find his father, Walter (Matthew Goshie). In the Big Apple, adventure and romance with Jovie (Evie Blythe) await.

And so does a shock about Buddy's father: Walter doesn't believe in Santa, and has landed on the old elf's "naughty" list. Can Buddy reignite the Christmas spirit in his family?

Fans of the movie will find that the musical is fairly faithful to David Berenbaum's original screenplay, with a couple of noticeable differences. One key difference is in its portrayal of Walter, Buddy's father: In the movie, the character (played by James Caan) is depicted as greedy and obsessed with business. In the musical, the character is softened somewhat: Walter is depicted as bumbling, forgetful and somewhat overworked.

Even with those differences, Dan Johnson said "Elf Jr." is "just a fun show. It's got a good message in it."

The "Elf Jr." version Philomath is slightly condensed from the full-length musical; Johnson said Philomath was unable to get the rights to the full show, likely because a production of "Elf" is touring the country this season.

Still, Johnson said, "Elf Jr." is an elaborate production: "It's a show that has a lot of pieces in it," and so it's a good production for students to learn a lot about the art of theater. 

And he said many of the students in his 28-member cast get the chance to tackle multiple roles in the production. 

The "Elf Jr." production uses prerecorded music, which gives his cast one big advantage: "From rehearsal one, the kids were rehearsing with the actual music," he said. 

And prerecorded or not, the songs are catchy: "Oh my goodness, the music sticks in your head," Johnson said.

Johnson doesn't charge students to participate in the production, and said ticket sales make up his entire budget for these shows. The Philomath High auditorium holds 483 patrons, he said, and a good night will find 300 or so people in attendance.

The school typically stages an ambitious musical production for the holidays, and recent offerings have included "Beauty and the Beast," "Cinderella" and "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers." But the show that seemed to draw the biggest crowds, Johnson said, was a stage version of The Disney Channel hit "High School Musical."

Johnson is hoping that "Elf Jr." hits the holiday sweet spot as well.   

"What more exciting way to start Christmas than with 'Elf?'" Johnson said. "Come help Buddy spread cheer. It's even going to snow."


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