“Elf” The Broadway Musical is entertaining Seattle crowds at The Paramount Theatre, December 5-10, 2017. Be enchanted and start your holidays off right by getting tickets here.
Many people say that Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. It’s also believed there is nothing more magical than seeing it through a child’s eyes. As Buddy, the title role in the musical “Elf,” Sam Hartley gets to enjoy both aspects more than most others. Learn more about Hartley in our interview below…
Eric Andrews-Katz: Who were you earliest influences?
Sam Hartley: My earliest influences I’d have to say were the early movie musicals. We definitely grew up watching the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers canon of films. Also, the early Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney films. I remember there was a made for TV version of the musical “Peter Pan” with Mary Martin and Cyril Ritchard. I must have watched that version over 100,000 times. “Peter Pan” was the first musical I saw on stage [it gave me the theatre bug] – at least the first I can remember. I would watch it over and over trying to memorize how they spoke and moved. Even their timing in how they landed the jokes. Then there was the humor of “Singing in the Rain” that wasn’t lost on me at that age either.
Andrews-Katz: What is your go-to audition song and why that particular one?
Hartley: I have to say that I haven’t had to prepare something – that wasn’t from a show I was auditioning for – in a long while. There is one song I’ve used, “Lucky to be Me” from the musical “On the Town.” The beginning of it talks about how if the character had the opportunity to be anyone else in the world, who would they be given that chance. Then he realizes the most important thing is being true to his self, and his own experiences. It’s not often that you find a song in musical theatre that speaks to you as a person, and not necessarily as a character that you have to put on. There is something special about that that has made sense to me. Any chance I get to sing in that style and variety, I take.
Andrews-Katz: You were in the musical “Love Letters.” What do you think is the enduring factor of Kurt Weil’s music?
Hartley: He is such a brilliant storyteller. I think that Kurt Weil challenged what audiences have come to expect from a musical (at that time), and specifically in the song “This is the Life”. That’s the one I got to sing in the show. I remember the first time I was given the music. It shocked me. Listening to the music and reading the words of that song, it is something that contemporary musicals are only starting to indulge in – the psychosis of the human mind and behaviors. Kurt Weil was doing that many years ago without hesitation.
Andrews-Katz: Do you think it’s easier playing lighter roles or darker roles in musicals?
Hartley: I think you have to attack the roles and songs in much the same way. When the material is as dark as some of it can be, there has to be lighter moments to balance them out. Otherwise it becomes lost on the audience. “Elf” is so joyful you can’t help but have a smile on your face. But there are still moments of not recognizing who you are in this world [like Buddy goes through] and it’s the gravity of real life. It’s nice to have a bit of both.
Andrews-Katz:This is your second time in the musical “Elf.” What was your first audition like?
Hartley: I was very lucky with my experience of being in the national tour of “Beauty and the Beast.” I worked with the same team that worked on the “Elf” tour. Basically, towards the end of my time with the “Beauty” tour, they were starting to cast for last season’s tour of “Elf.” It was the same casting team, so I got asked to come in and it seemed like a natural fit. I feel lucky that I get to play both roles – especially so close together. Being a part of both of those roles is exciting at this point in my career. I knew the team (for “Elf”) and they knew my work. It was lucky timing, as so much in this business can be.
Andrews-Katz: Did you have to audition the second time around for the musical, or did they offer you the part?
Hartley: The second time was about their checking around to see who was available and if there were any interest on the actor’s part. Of course there was! It’s quite a role, getting the opportunity to come back with already knowing Buddy’s journey and what he is going through. I wanted that chance to enjoy the role. I get to keep my head above water a little more than I did last year, in the first go around with the show.
Andrews-Katz: How do you muster the exuberant amounts of energy for Buddy each night?
Hartley: Honestly it just happens. It really does. It kind of takes over and does what it needs to do. There is a pretty cool natural energy when we start the show. Santa is our ‘narrator’ for the musical and the moment the audience sees him, they are checked in and ready to go. There is nothing like that agreement between the cast/crew and the audience watching. It all takes care of itself.
Andrews-Katz: How are you like Buddy and how do you contrast from him?
Hartley: I would say that Buddy has taught me to see the best in everything. To take everything at face value without any preconceived notions. That is definitely what I’ve learned the most from him. He is painfully positive – all the time! I know that living on the road can be a difficult thing, especially around the holidays – being away from family and friends and one’s routine. Taking a step back to do the show every day really helps me to check in with that. It’s a different kind of tradition that I get to be a part of. The opportunity to come back and play the Paramount again [I was there for “Beauty and the Beast”] is an incredible thing. I get to revisit places all around the country that feel familiar. It’s an incredible gift.
Andrews-Katz: How does Buddy, the elf compare to other Christmas icon figures?
Hartley: I really love Buddy that he is the same kind of sort of goofy, hopeful person I’d like to be in the world. But he is human. In the sort of other traditional Christmas stories, we don’t see the human recognition around them as much. Of all the places in the world, “Elf” shoves Buddy into New York City, and then it’s full speed ahead to a painful reality. I think that “Elf” has become a modern standard in Christmas movies. It’s become part of the classics. “Elf” brings us into the modern world as the story could happen today or tomorrow. That is what keeps it relevant to all of us.
Andrews-Katz: If you could play any role – regardless of any limitations – what would it be and why?
Hartley: I already know this answer! It’s tough but my first instinct is to play ‘The Witch’ in “Into the Woods”. There’s no definition of the witch being female. I think the role is so brilliantly written and it’s also one of my favorite musicals. When I discovered it, I recognized how explosive the storytelling is in the show. They took the stories I knew so well, and THEN there was an Act Two. Of course there is more after Happily Ever After. The second role I’d love to play is Sweeney Todd. It’s a little more realistic. I think it’s the great challenge of a baritone in the musical theatre repertoires. Who would have ever guessed that the subject matter would have existed on stage, or that the audience could fall in love with a character so evil and brilliant? That’s how the audience identifies because they first see him as evil and then they realize that’s not the case.
“Elf” the musical is based on the 2003 film by the same name. While the film starred Will Ferrell and wasn’t a musical, the stage production was created in 2010 and broke box office records at the Hirschfeld Theatre three times for highest grossing holiday show that season. The musical’s script was adapted by Bob Martin (“The Drowsy Chaperone”) and the late Thomas Meehan (book for “Annie,” “The Producers”). The original songs are written by Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin, who previously teamed up to write the original songs for the musical “The Wedding Singer.”
Get tickets here!