Remember the iconic saying from everyone’s favorite elf, “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear”? Well, it’s true! What better way to ring in the holiday season than with the melodic stylings of thirty-nine Christmas-loving theatre students?
Academy Youth Theatre is transforming Lynchburg into “Christmastown” with their production of Elf the Musical! On December 17th and 18th, you are invited to see the beloved tale of Buddy the Elf come to life as he journeys on a quest to find his father, meets some new friends along the way, and reminds everyone in New York of the true meaning of Christmas.
From the musical’s cast members to their parents to the choreographer, there seems to be one word that ties Elf together and embodies it in the most accurate way, “joy”. A simple word that seems incredibly common for the holidays now comes to life on the stage of the Historic Academy Theatre! Throughout the entirety of Elf the Musical, the Academy Youth Theatre showcases all that joy is, making this show one that will stick with audience members long after the curtain closes.
One person impacted by this joy is Ronnie Brady, the show’s choreographer. He says, “We know that Christmas comes but once a year and we tend to get ‘wrapped up’ in the world’s expectations of what it means to celebrate the holidays,” he continues, “Shopping, baking, planning all triples in urgency and we slowly lose sight of the bigger picture. When was the last time you caroled? When was the last time you paid it forward?” he ponders, “How much time do you actually spend playing games with family instead of worrying about a perfect Christmas experience?”
Ronnie and the rest of the cast/crew realize the importance of appreciating our loved ones and reminds others to do the same. “In this day of social media, it’s important to know that time is limited and our phones do not need to capture every single moment,” he concludes, “Joy is beautifully seen in the movement throughout the show and I hope that the audience leaves with a heart full of it!”
Bronson Dawson, who plays the adored main character of Buddy the Elf, personally loves all that Buddy and the show embodies. He says, “Buddy spreads his kindness to everyone, even to the ones that desperately need it. Buddy brings joy and kindness to New York and ends up bringing life and happiness to everyone around him,” he continues, “Everything about Buddy is the person I try to be.”
“I feel like the best part of this production is the cast and team of directors,” Bronson claims, “Everyone is coming together to tell this beautiful story that has a wonderful meaning. There is so much compassion and love that the cast and directors all share with one another and it’s an amazing thing.”
His mother, Michelle, discusses the investment you make when becoming a parent of an AYT student. She begins, “You get to watch your child grow in their theater skills as well as learning life lessons and building friendships that last beyond when that particular theater show ends,” she continues, “The directors that work with AYT are ones who have a sincere desire to help each child be their best. They encourage the students to reach for things that that child may not think they can do, each director speaks encouragement into each student and with that, self confidence builds.”
When asked about the particular uniqueness of this production, Michelle answers, “As I watch the videos shared in the Facebook group of Elf the Musical, I watch each child encouraging others. This cast works together to have fun and build trust in each other in each segment of the musical,” she states, “I see each cast member putting forth such effort coming together to bring each character to life on the stage. Love, acceptance, learning to see past their own self, and learning what is most important…..family…. will be sure to be felt in this performance.”
Education Manager, Kelli Johnson, continues on the meaning of the show as a whole, “Elf is a story about joy,” she says, “During Thanksgiving week we are encouraging our students to #spreadjoy to people they come in contact with.”
The students were given suggestions to #spreadjoy through paying it forward during Thanksgiving break in various ways, a few examples being to “visit a nursing home, pay a stranger a compliment, help out the Humane Society or assist their family in some way,” says Johnson. The team of Directors advocated for the students to then share about their experiences on social media platforms in an effort to inspire others to do the same. Johnson continues, “We hope everyone who comes and sees our show remembers the Joy of Christmas, and that it’s not about the hustle and bustle, but it’s about being together with people that you love and spreading joy to everyone around you.”
So, don’t be a “cotton-headed ninny muggins” – come on out to the Academy’s Historic Academy Theatre on December 17th and 18th with multiple showtimes to feel the Christmas joy that all of us have been longing so desperately for, even if we didn’t realize it. With a little help from Buddy the Elf, his friends, and the spectacular cast/crew of Elf the Musical, Lynchburg might just be the first city where everyone makes it on the nice list.