Elf story has Northeast roots

Hol­i­day spir­it: Chris­toph­er Sut­ton is Buddy in Wal­nut Street’s pro­duc­tion of Elf. The 2003 film of the same name, star­ring Will Fer­rell, was writ­ten by North­east nat­ive Dav­id Ber­en­baum.

Elf, the per­en­ni­al fa­vor­ite based on the charm­ing tale of Buddy, a young orphan who mis­takenly crawls in­to Santa’s bag of gifts and is trans­por­ted to the North Pole, bright­ens the hol­i­day sea­son at the Wal­nut Street Theatre through Jan. 5.

Ad­ap­ted from the film and a hit Broad­way mu­sic­al, the Wal­nut Street’s pro­duc­tion fea­tures Chris­toph­er Sut­ton as Buddy, who, based on his enorm­ous size and poor toy-mak­ing abil­it­ies, must fi­nally face the fact that he is not an elf but a hu­man be­ing. 

The show is based on the 2003 New Line Cinema film of the same name, star­ring Will Fer­rell, and writ­ten by Dav­id Ber­en­baum, who grew up in the North­east and is a gradu­ate of George Wash­ing­ton High School.

And how did someone who grew up cel­eb­rat­ing Cha­nukah go on to write a smash hit screen­play about Christ­mas?

Ber­en­baum says, “I’ve al­ways loved Christ­mas and Christ­mas movies and Christ­mas­time. It’s a great time of the year to tell stor­ies. There’s just something ma­gic­al about that time of the year.”

In the WST pro­duc­tion, the hol­i­day spir­it is there but the show stands on its own mer­it.

“We’re not try­ing to im­it­ate any­body. You know, you can only be second rate to some­body else but first rate if you are true to your­self,“ Sut­ton said.

“We just want to keep the in­teg­rity of the film and the Broad­way show alive,” Sut­ton said. “This is a sweet, won­der­ful, in­fec­tious show in the true Christ­mas spir­it. We just want to keep that feel­ing alive.”

Act­ing has been alive in Sut­ton’s heart since he was a little boy.

“I was about 8 years old and in the third grade. One day, my friend Jeff and I were set to do a clown routine in a Boy Scouts show un­til Jeff got sick and went home. That meant I had to go on alone. And I did,” Sut­ton said. “I did a lot of im­prov and came up with some pretty cool things. I loved every minute of it, and I think my dad still has a 35mm film of it.”

The old­est of sev­en, Sut­ton said he also loved to read. “And when I dis­covered and read Shakespeare as a kid, it made me sure I wanted to be­come an act­or.”

With his ap­pet­ite whet for the theat­er, Sut­ton said his ca­reer path was sealed. A three-time Bar­ry­more award nom­in­ee for Blood Broth­ers and Singin’ in the Rain, Sut­ton won the award for The Buddy Holly Story in 1999, and re­turned last year to the Wal­nut to re­cre­ate his por­tray­al.

As part of his role of Don in Singin’ in the Rain at the Wal­nut, Sut­ton had to tap dance, and he’ll be put­ting those newly-learned skills to good use again in Elf.

Sut­ton and his wife, act­ress Lyn Phil­istine, live in As­tor­ia, N.Y. Their 10-week-old baby boy, Dylan, will ap­pear with his fath­er in this pro­duc­tion.

“In the show, Buddy even­tu­ally re­turns to his birth­place of New York City in search of his bio­lo­gic­al fath­er. And at the end of the show, Buddy has his own little Buddy — this time played by my little Dylan.”

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