Q&A with Matt Owen of ‘Elf: The Musical’

With its sincere sweetness and Will Farrell’s gangly goofery, Elf was instantly absorbed into the holiday movie canon when it hit theaters in 2003. Two years ago, the movie was adapted for Broadway and transformed into a big-budget, family-friendly extravaganza. This month, the first regional production of Elf: The Musical opens at the 5th Avenue Theatre. Seattle-born, LA-dwelling Matt Owen stars as Buddy, the irrepressible human elf. He spoke to us during the first week of rehearsals.

Have you been studying the movie?
I’ve been actively avoiding the movie. It’s such an iconic role for Will Farrell. I feel like I have big shoes to fill. I don’t wanna copy what he does because that’s disingenuous, I think. I’m trying to find my own personal Buddy, you know? I have to go for the honest approach to what Buddy would do in this situation. And the comedy comes out of that honesty. Buddy has so much more capacity for emotion than anyone around him and isn’t afraid to express himself. He doesn’t have a filter.

How does the musical differ from the movie?
It’s actually pretty similar in terms of the general story. There are some slight changes throughout—and of course it has big production numbers with 15 Santas singing and dancing! I think in many ways the musical has a little more heart than the movie. Just the fact that there’s music and singing lends a certain emotional quality that’s touching and sweet.

They really expanded on the relationship between Buddy and Jovie, Buddy’s romantic interest who’s played by Kendra Kassenbaum. The songs are great—fun, stylistically varied. There’s also tap dancing in the show. Buddy does a lot of tapping. There’s ice-skating on roller blades that are made to look like ice skates. I’m getting to live out my professional hockey dreams at the 5th Avenue Theatre. This is the closest thing I’ll get to being on the Canucks.

Photo by Matt Kitaoka