North’s holiday musical highlights big show with big yuletide spirit

Irony lies in the fact that Columbus North High School’s fall musical about an elf is larger than life.

Look at the list and check it twice: An oversized Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. A cast and crew of 150 people. A total of 15 Santas, including nearly every make and model of ol’ St. Nick.

“I don’t see how you couldn’t love it,” said lead actor Ben Richards.

He plays Buddy in the Christmas classic “Elf,” to be presented Friday through Sunday at the school’s Judson Erne Auditorium. The production focuses on an orphaned child who mistakenly crawls into Santa’s bag of gifts and is transported to the North Pole, according to online summaries. After discovering the baby, Santa and his elves decide to raise the child as an elf.

Years later, Buddy finds out that he’s actually a human being and, at Santa’s prompting, heads off to New York City in search of his father, Walter Hobbs.

As a child, Richards loved the 2003 movie starring Will Farrell. But he finds the oversized challenge in the leading role to be one of contrasts.

“Buddy’s so blissfully ignorant about literally everything,” Richards said. “And it’s hard to be a 30-year-old with the mind of a 6-year-old.”

The actor loves the character’s passion and angst the most in numbers such as “Nobody Cares About Santa.” And, of course, he spreads Christmas cheer by singing loudly and for all to hear.

Director Julie Hult, a local stage veteran and favorite who has directed other such major efforts as “Grease” and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” in the past, sees “Elf” as another over-the-top hit here.

“I think that it definitely serves a purpose,” Hult said. “It’s a holiday show that people are familiar with, and it’s just a lot of fun.

“And it seems like that’s what people want right now is fun. So, we decided to deliver it on a pretty big scale.”

That means the huge cast and crew, and a sizable budget for elements such as costumes.

“We have invested quite a bit in the appearance of the show,” she said. “And I think audiences will be excited by what we’re able to put together.”

The cast includes Southside Elementary School fifth-grader Knox Hodges playing Buddy’s little half-brother Michael. Hult auditioned 39 youngsters from fifth- to seventh-graders to find the right fit.

The youngster mentioned that the role is more than his ticket to glad tidings. Like the show, he sees his part as bigger than that.

“I was wanting to try new things and to find my place,” Hodges said. “And now I know that acting is my place.”

The place where he found a slight challenge was memorizing lines.

“But I’ve learned to just keep repeating everything,” Hodges said.

“I knew he’d be good at it,” said mom Kelly Hodges, referring to even before auditions. “I just knew that he would need some time to want to do it himself.”

Hult exudes almost a Buddy-born giddiness for everything from the show’s snow to what looks like real ice skating.

“Hey — don’t spoil all the surprises,” she said, almost sounding like a parent warning a youngster not to peek early into Christmas packages.

She hopes audiences can feel what she has felt during rehearsals.

“The energy,” Hult said, “is palpable.”

Presumably, so, too, is the Christmas spirit.

About the show

What: Columbus North High School’s presentation of the musical “Elf.”

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and at 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

Where: North’s Judson Erne Auditorium, 1400 25th St.

Principal cast: Ben Richards as Buddy; Austin Clark as Walter; Molly Hotek as Emily; Knox Hodges as Michael; Amelia Maddox as Jovie; Brianna Guthrie as Deb; Cathy Lovins as the manager; and James Thur as Santa.