Ryan Zepp, of Fraser, left, and Cole VanAmberg, of Troy, are playing Buddy the elf in the Warren Civic Theatre’s “Elf the Musical Jr.” at the Warren Community Center. Zepp performs at 7 p.m. Dec. 6 and at 3 p.m. Dec. 7. VanAmberg plays Buddy at 7 p.m. Dec. 7 and at 3 p.m. Dec. 8.

Ryan Zepp, of Fraser, left, and Cole VanAmberg, of Troy, are playing Buddy the elf in the Warren Civic Theatre’s “Elf the Musical Jr.” at the Warren Community Center. Zepp performs at 7 p.m. Dec. 6 and at 3 p.m. Dec. 7. VanAmberg plays Buddy at 7 p.m. Dec. 7 and at 3 p.m. Dec. 8.

Photo by Donna Agusti


Warren Civic Theatre celebrates Christmas with ‘Elf the Musical Jr.’

By: Maria Allard | Warren Weekly | Published November 29, 2019

WARREN — Anyone looking to get into the Christmas spirit should head over to the Warren Community Center this weekend for the Warren Civic Theatre’s production of “Elf the Musical Jr.”

In “Elf the Musical Jr.,” the cast of characters is between the ages of 7 and 18. Showtime is at 7 p.m. Dec. 6, 3 and 7 p.m. Dec. 7, and 3 p.m. Dec. 8. The show is directed by Joe Colosi and choreographed by Geri Elise Conner. Joana Shepard is the musical director.

The musical is based on the 2003 film “Elf,” starring Will Ferrell. Buddy, a young orphan, accidently crawls into Santa’s bag of gifts and is transported to the North Pole. Buddy is then raised by Santa’s elves, unaware that he is actually a human being.

When he finds out he’s not an elf, Buddy heads to New York City to find his father, Walter Hobbs, now married to wife Emily and a father to son Michael. Buddy — from his yellow tights to his affinity for being happy — is gaga about Christmas. Concern sweeps over him when he finds out his dad is on Santa’s “naughty list.”

“Elf the Musical Jr.” is told through plenty of holiday cheer, and singing and dancing by a talented ensemble that can’t wait for opening night. A number of songs — including “Happy All the Time,” “Sparkle Jolly Twinkle Jingley,” “Never Fall in Love (with an Elf)” and “World’s Greatest Dad” — highlight the show.

Because of the large amount of performers who tried out for parts, there are two casts. Cole VanAmberg, 15, and Ryan Zepp, 16, were both given the lead role of Buddy the elf. Zepp performs Friday evening and Saturday afternoon. VanAmberg plays Buddy on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.

“My character is energetic. It’s really exciting to play him,” said VanAmberg, of Troy. “He lets his emotions loose. It’s a lot of different interpretations. You have to think about what he’s feeling and the direction the scene needs to go.”

Zepp, of Fraser, agreed.

“He’s very energetic and happy all the time,” Zepp said. “I think the show is really funny and kid-friendly. I think it’s a show for all ages. There’s some jokes for kids and some for adults.”

Both actors feel rehearsals have gone quite well.

“I think it’s like a tight-knit group of people,” Zepp said. “It’s a great cast to work with.”

“We’re way more prepared than we’ve ever been,” VanAmberg said.

Fifteen-year-old Grace Cafagna, of Troy, is playing Jovie on Saturday evening and at the Sunday matinee, while Julia Ouellette, 16, was cast as Jovie in the other two shows. Jovie, portrayed by Zooey Deschanel in the movie, works at a department store and isn’t a big fan of the holidays.

“It’s kind of a past thing (for Jovie)” Cafagna said, adding that Buddy’s enthusiasm for Christmas rubs off on her. “I get to play someone which is very different than me. It’s a family-friendly show. There’s a ton of choreography. Kids will love it. It’s really funny.”

“Jovie is mean and tough. I’m more open,” Ouellette, of Warren, said. “As soon as I step onstage, it’s a switch that just flips. It’s an amazing show. Everyone will love it when they come see it.”

Ouellette’s brother Joseph Ouellette, 18, of Warren, was cast in all four shows as Walter Hobbs, who isn’t thrilled when his long-lost son appears out of the blue.

“He’s very grumpy,” Joseph Ouellette laughed when describing his character. “He has to work all the time. I’m just trying to keep it together for my family. I studied his character and picked up little things here and there.”

One of the best parts of theater for Joseph Ouellette is “you get a lot of friends very quickly.”

BradLee Spisak is playing Santa Claus on Friday evening and at the Saturday matinee. Al Pavlik is Santa in the remaining two shows. Spisak, 14, of Warren, did some research on the jolly man in the red suit to prepare.

“It will help me create the Santa I am playing,” he said, adding that he’s a fan of the movie. “My dad and I always watch it every Christmas. It’s kind of a family thing we do.”    

Faith D’Urso, 17, of Warren, is Emily in the first two shows, and Carys Rees-Baker, 16, of Grosse Pointe Farms, plays her in the last two shows. Nikita Bretz is Michael in the first two shows, while Miles Moody is Michael in the last two.

The Warren Community Center is located at 5460 Arden Ave. in Warren. Reserved seating costs $12 for adults or $8 for children 12 and younger. Tickets are available at WarrenCivic.org or by calling Brown Paper Tickets at (800) 838-3006.