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Injury leads to shake-up in BCT's 'Elf' the musical

Based on the 2003 movie directed by Jon Favreau and starring Will Ferrell as an oversized elf named Buddy, the Brainerd Community Theatre's musical production of the modern-day holiday classic will be Dec. 9-11 and Dec. 14-16 on the Brainerd campus of Central Lakes College.

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From left to right: Marc Oliphant, Ryan Deblock, Rachel Martin, Rachael Kline, Jake Denning, Jesse Brutscher, Jana Johnson and Macy Judd. Contributed / John Erickson

Brainerd Community Theatre’s holiday show “Elf” the musical includes some behind-the-scenes drama.

But audiences hopefully won’t notice it during the 7 p.m. Dec. 9-11 and 14-16, and 2 p.m. Dec. 11 matinee at the John Chalberg Theatre on the Brainerd campus of Central Lakes College.

“We hadn’t staged a true Christmas-themed show in some time. And so when ‘Elf’ was suggested as a possible production, we immediately knew that was the show for us,” Theater Director Patrick Spradlin stated in a news release.

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“Elf” the musical is based on the 2003 movie, a Christmas comedy directed by Jon Favreau and starring “Saturday Night Live” alum Will Ferrell as an oversized elf named Buddy.

For BCT’s local production of the musical, the 25-member cast began rehearsals in early October. But with just over two weeks prior to opening night, Jake Denning, playing the lead role of Buddy, was making an exit and thought he saw something lying on the stage floor.

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“He jumped over it, but when he landed we heard this loud pop,” said Travis Chaput, director of “Elf” the musical. “The noise was the sound of Denning’s Achilles tendon separating, an injury that took him into the emergency room and out of the show.”

Spradlin added, “We don’t have understudies in community theater, unlike the professional world. We were really up against it.”


“We hadn’t staged a true Christmas-themed show in some time.”

— Patrick Spradlin


There was only one person who could step into the role vacated by Denning due to injury, according to Spradlin, and that was Chaput.

“He’s a really talented performer of musical comedy, so this was clearly a good option, all things considered,” Spradlin stated. “It is so unfortunate to lose Jake to this accident. He is also a gifted performer, and would have been a real delight as the main character Buddy.”

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Buddy mistakenly crawls into Santa’s toy sack one Christmas Eve and travels to the North Pole where the boy is raised by the elves, who think he is one of them. However, when Buddy matures, it becomes apparent from his size that he’s actually human.

Santa encourages Buddy to return to New York to find his biological parents. Buddy is determined to win over his birth family and help New York City remember the true meaning of Christmas.

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The BCT cast includes Jana Johnson, Phyl Bell, Noah Mickelson, Martha Rustad, Elli Salo, Rachel Martin, Peyton Freeman, Lauren Yeager, Kryston Wiseley, Anika Seitzer, Ryan Deblock, Maureen Paulus, and Chaput (Brainerd), Marc Oliphant (Baxter), Brian Rhett (Pillager), Abi Swanson (Crosslake), Rhonda Schmidt, Melissa Peterson, Rachael Kline, and Jesse Brutscher (Little Falls), Mackenzie Pratt, Abby Pratt, Emily Pratt (Merrifield), Macy Judd (Staples) and Lydia Jendro (Fort Ripley).

The creative team, in addition to Chaput, includes choreographer/stage manager Amy Borash, vocal director Koreann Martin, set designer George Marsolek, lighting designer Heidi Eckwall, costumer Deb Binda and master electrician/sound engineer Curtis Jendrow.

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This production is made possible, in part, by the voters of Minnesota, through a grant from the Five Wings Arts Council, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.

Spradlin sat down with Chaput to discuss “Elf” the musical and some of the challenges encountered in the process of producing it.

Spradlin: What is it you find appealing about this show?

Chaput: Christmas has always been my favorite time of year. A production at Christmas was the thing that got me back into community theater. The crowds were so receptive and it made me think that after the last 19 months of craziness, our community needed something uplifting to raise all our spirits and remind us of what the holiday season is all about. This musical seemed like the perfect thing to bring us all together again for the holidays.

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Spradlin: For those familiar with the movie version, are there surprises in the stage production? Major differences?

Chaput: Aside from the story now having great musical numbers, I think a lot of people will be pleased to see all the classic moments people love from the movie. And there are also some fun additions just for the musical.

Spradlin: You’ve had some real challenges: losing cast members to scheduling conflicts, dealing with COVID protocols. Most recently you lost your lead actor to an accident. How have you and the cast responded to these challenges?

Chaput: My cast is amazing. These folks have been working hard for weeks and have dealt with every blow we have taken in stride. This cast really embodies the true meaning of theater. They come together when there are challenges and come back even stronger. Everything we have gone through will only make this production better and a real must-see.

Spradlin: You’ve had to assume the lead role of Buddy with less than two weeks of rehearsals remaining before opening night. Nervous?

Chaput: I think nervous is an understatement. This isn’t at all what we wanted. Jake Denning was the perfect Buddy and it breaks my heart that folks won’t get to see his portrayal of this character. When I was casting the show, he was my top pick from the get-go. We both had conversations about how this was a dream role for us both. But I also wanted to see this show come to life with or without me and Jake was willing to take on the task of bringing this iconic character to life. I am going to do my very best to make him proud. My cast is rallying behind me right now and getting me up to snuff on everything. I promise the audience won’t miss a beat. But we are all thinking and praying for Jake right now and wishing him a speedy recovery.

Spradlin: Anything else you’d like audiences to know before they come to the show?

Chaput: We are still dealing with COVID and cases are rising in our state. So please do your part by abiding by the mask mandate for all patrons of the show. We want to ensure that everyone attending feels as safe as possible when seeing the show, and we also want to protect the actors on stage who have worked so hard over the last seven weeks to bring this show to life.

‘Elf’ the musical tickets

Tickets for Brainerd Community Theatre’s production of “Elf” the musical are available from the Central Lakes College Theatre Box Office at 218-855-8199 or online at www.clcperformingarts.com .

Some performances are already close to being sold out, so advance ticket purchase is recommended.

Students, staff, faculty and visitors must wear face masks while inside any CLC campus building regardless of vaccination status.

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