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Fargo-Moorhead Community Theatre's 'Elf' adds songs and dance to bring on holiday cheer

“I think it warms your heart to have dancing and singing," says the director, Dawn Gunderson.

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Tracy Frank, left, Roman Indrehus, John Indrehus, Paul Bougie and Jake Sells gather together as their characters Emily, Michael and Walter Hobbs, Santa and Buddy the Elf for Fargo-Moorhead Community Theatre’s rehearsal of "Elf the Musical" on Monday, Nov. 29, 2021, at The Hjemkomst Center in Moorhead. Alyssa Goelzer / The Forum
Forum Communications Co.

MOORHEAD — The Will Ferrell movie “Elf” became an instant family holiday classic when it was released in 2003 for portraying the childish wonder and glee for the spirit of Christmas.

The cast and crew of Fargo-Moorhead Community Theatre’s staged spin on the story feels the musical version can do just the same.

“It’s just a really fun, heartwarming show. It’s a good way to get into the Christmas spirit,” says Jake Sells, who stars as Buddy the Elf.

He isn’t just gauging his reaction on rehearsals. He played the store manager in a 2019 production in St. Cloud, Minn., and saw how the audience reacted.

The musical will make its local debut when it opens its three-week run Thursday night, Dec. 2.

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Director and choreographer Dawn Gunderson says the show stays true to the movie, but adds songs and dances to help tell the story.

“I’ve been a singer and dancer my whole life. Music always brings energy and excitement,” she says. “I think it warms your heart to have dancing and singing. The music is just one more level up to tell the story.”

The musical includes 13 songs written for the stage, including “Sparklejollytwinklejingley,” sung by Buddy, the store manager and company.

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Jovie and Buddy the Elf, played by Emily Kautz and Jake Sells, put up ornaments on the Christmas tree in Fargo-Moorhead Community Theatre’s "Elf the Musical" on Monday, Nov. 29, 2021, at the Hjemkomst Center in Moorhead. Alyssa Goelzer / The Forum
Forum Communications Co.

“It’s very Christmassy, very fun,” Sells says, who is making his FMCT debut. “We get to see New York embrace the Christmas spirit.”

Another cast favorite is “The Story of Buddy the Elf,” sung by Buddy, his half-brother Michael, his father Walter and other members of the cast.

The father and son characters Walter and Michael are played by real life father and son John and Roman Indrehus.

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“We saw an opportunity to be father and son onstage and it works,” says 13-year-old Roman, who has performed in “You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown” and Fargo-Moorhead Opera’s 2019 Christmas production of “Amahl & The Night Visitors.”

“It’s a great opportunity to build a lasting memory. We have so much stage time together and get to sing together,” says John.

He can relate to Walter Hobbs, the workaholic dad who never had a relationship with his oldest son, Buddy. With children ranging from 26 to 13, John says he’s learned from the mistakes he made with the older kids

“You learn and become a better parent for that,” he says.

He had done musicals, “many years ago,” but returned to the stage for FMCT’s 2019 holiday production of “A Christmas Carol.” That show was interrupted midrun as a crack in the roof was discovered, prompting the the closing of FMCT’s Fargo home in Island Park .

The building has remained closed as an insurance settlement gets hammered out.

John is happy FMCT has found a new home in the Hjemkomst Center in Moorhead.

“It’s outstanding to have this opportunity and location. They made a nice home for us here to do this,” he says.

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Santa, played by Paul Bougie, sings as he receives a hug from his elves during Fargo-Moorhead Community Theatre’s rehearsal of "Elf the Musical" on Monday, Nov. 29, 2021, at the Hjemkomst Center in Moorhead. Alyssa Goelzer / The Forum
Forum Communications Co.

“It’s intimate, the acoustics are great and you can see the audience (from the stage) quite well. It’s different, but really fun,” says Gunderson, an FMCT veteran, including the first show in the new space, “Young Frankenstein.”

Watching “Elf” has become a holiday tradition for the Indrehus family, as it has for Gunderson’s family. This year, however, she’s held off on watching it.

“I don’t want to be influenced by past performances, or movie versus play. I like to look at the script and bring the script to life,” she says.

Sells didn’t need watch the film either to channel Buddy.

“He’s an adult with a lot of childlike qualities. I’m 26 and still like to run around like a kid,” he says.

If you go

What: “Elf the Musical”

When: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 2-4, 8-11, and 15-18, and 5:30 p.m. Dec. 12 and 19

Where: Hjemkomst Center, 202 First Ave. N., Moorhead

Info: The entire run is sold out; https://fmct.org/

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