Weekender

Millbrook Playhouse Youth Ensemble hopes for audience to embrace ‘inner elf’

Izyah Gerlach, left, will perform in Millbrook Playhouse Youth Ensemble’s “Elf the Musical Jr.” with Aimee Hunsinger.
Izyah Gerlach, left, will perform in Millbrook Playhouse Youth Ensemble’s “Elf the Musical Jr.” with Aimee Hunsinger. Photo provided

For the second year in a row, the Millbrook Playhouse Youth Ensemble will present a holiday production, this time bringing the musical comedy “Elf the Musical Jr.” to the Sloan Fine Arts Center on the Lock Haven University campus.

Based on the holiday film, “Elf,” the comedy follows Buddy the Elf in his quest to find his true identity. The show features songs by Tony Award-nominees Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin, and the Millbrook Playhouse production will be directed by artistic associate Matt Spencer. In the role of Buddy is Izyah Gerlach, with Aimee Hunsinger as Buddy’s girlfriend, Jovie.

“It’s a show about spreading love and cheer, which is what the world needs more of these days,” Spencer said. “Buddy is the unique spokesperson who unabashedly wants the world to sing loud for all to hear.”

In the play, Jovie falls in love easily and lets her heart get the best of her.

“She is closed off from the rest of the world until she meets Buddy,” Hunsinger said. “During the show, she gradually opens up and realizes there are people in the world who are just like her.”

This is the second year for the Millbrook Playhouse Youth Ensemble. The cast began with auditions in October and has been rehearsing mostly on the weekends.

“These students are working hard to give their best performance,” Spencer said. “We expect them to bring their A-game to each rehearsal, as we treat the youth ensemble as the step before they’re able to be cast in the mainstage shows during the summer.”

“We started rehearsals in November and prepare like any other show — long rehearsals, tech week and music rehearsals,” Hunsinger said. “Just because we are kids does not change how we rehearse or how much effort is put forth. Everybody works hard to achieve the same goal.”

“Elf the Musical Jr.” is an hourlong adaptation of the Broadway production. According to Spencer, it features all the best parts of the musical, while making it slightly easier for the students.

“That doesn’t mean we’re not making the students reach for our mainstage standards,” Spencer said. “These students are putting on a full-scale musical.”

After the success of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” last year, Millbrook knew it wanted to push the student performers harder. While looking at other popular Christmas shows, “Elf the Musical Jr.” kept popping up.

“After working with the camp students this summer, I knew many of them would fit well into this show,” Spencer said. “ ‘Elf’ has a lot of featured parts for the performers, so we have the best of the best of area students.”

In Hunsinger’s opinion, the message of “Elf the Musical” is that you can be who you want to be.

“Do not be discouraged if you do not get something because you are ‘not right,’ ” she said. “Do not change who you are for someone else — just be yourself.”

“Christmas is a time for sharing memories with your loved ones, and you should never be ashamed of that,” Spencer said. “You should embrace your inner elf and spread love and Christmas cheer. I hope the audience leaves more excited for the Christmas season, but also with a sense of wanting to spread the love and kindness that Buddy the Elf shows every single person he encounters.”

Hunsinger thinks this show has something for everyone and that the audience will come away with a new outlook on life.

“You can be who you want to be, and no one else can change that — just be yourself and people will respect that,” she said. “If you are skeptical, come anyway — you will not be disappointed.”

IF YOU GO

  • What: Millbrook Playhouse Youth Ensemble’s “Elf the Musical Jr.”
  • When: 7 p.m. Friday, 5 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday
  • Where: Sloan Fine Arts Building, Lock Haven University
  • Info: www.millbrookplayhouse .net
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