Anthony Cataldo (L) is Buddy and Lauren Echausse is Jovie in Wagon Wheel Center for the Arts’ production of “Elf, the Musical.”  Photos Provided.
Anthony Cataldo (L) is Buddy and Lauren Echausse is Jovie in Wagon Wheel Center for the Arts’ production of “Elf, the Musical.” Photos Provided.
Friday is opening night for “Elf, the Musical” – theater’s take on the hit 2003 Will Ferrell movie – at the Wagon Wheel Center for the Arts.

Back in Warsaw to play Buddy Hobbs is Anthony Cataldo, who appeared in all six shows of the 2019 season, including “Matilda,” “Oklahoma!,” “Mamma Mia!” and “Hands on a Hardbody.”

He will be joined by Wagon Wheel newcomer Lauren Echausse as Jovie.

Explaining the story of “Elf,” Cataldo said, “This kid crawled into Santa’s toy sack when he was a baby. Santa accidentally brought him back to the North Pole and, instead of returning him, they just decided to raise the kid themselves, with him and all the elves. So this kid thinks he’s an elf, but he’s not, and he’s super tall, so, eventually, Santa’s like, ‘Yeah, we need to go to New York and meet your dad.’ So he goes and meets his dad and it’s just a story about family, love and Christmas spirit and acceptance.”

Buddy’s dad is a bit of a Scrooge initially.

At one of Buddy’s first days of work, Echausse said he stumbles into a Macy’s, which is all decorated for Christmas.

“He kind of sees it as the closest thing to the North Pole where he grew up,” she said. “So he runs into the manager, and because he’s in his elf costume from the North Pole, the manager thinks he works there because everyone is dressed up in elf costumes similar to his.”

Buddy is sent off to a section of the store where Jovie is working and they meet.

“They end up falling in love. So people don’t show much interest in Jovie. She’s kind of more shy and keeps to herself, but Buddy kind of pulls her out of her shell. So they become a good match at the end,” Echausse said.

While the movie hit theaters in only 2003 and “Elf” became a musical in 2010, it’s already become a Christmas staple for many.

“Will Ferrell is just iconic, right? He’s done so many things that are so outside the box and ... there’s just so many iconic moments and lines (in the movie) that were not in the musical originally that we kind of added in,” Echausse said. “There’s a moment where – in New York City there’s tons of revolving doors that don’t exist in the North Pole, so Buddy kind of gets a kick out of playing (in there). It kind of becomes Buddy’s jungle gym.”

She said there’s so many one-liners from the movie that have become iconic.

“One being, after hours, first date, he busts into his dad’s office in the middle of a meeting and goes, ‘I’m in love! I’m in love! And I don’t care who knows it!’ And that’s like a super iconic line from the show,” she said.

Cataldo said when Buddy answers the phone for his dad – who is a big office bigwig – he answers, “Buddy the Elf. What’s your favorite color?”

Echausse said there’s just so many funny one-liners.

After the 2019 Wagon Wheel season, Cataldo went on tour with “Escape to Margaritaville,” which features the songs of Jimmy Buffett. That tour just ended and he came back to Wagon Wheel for “Elf.”

He said it was “incredible” to be back to the Wagon Wheel.

“Scott and Jen and everybody here – it’s like a home. It’s like coming back home, which is so nice,” Cataldo said. “Like the community within the theater and then the community within Warsaw is also so nice. I was just walking down the street the other day and this car stopped and rolled down the window. They were like, ‘Oh my God, we’re so glad to see you again!’ I was like, I don’t know who you are but I’m so happy that you are. It was nice.”

Echausse said she was so excited to be experiencing performing at the Wagon Wheel for her first time.

“I’ve had so many of my close friends from school – I went to Penn State – that have worked here and they’ve said such high and kind regards about this theater, so I was super excited to be able to come in and play such a fun role here,” she said.

After graduating Penn State in 2019, she  was at New London Barn Playhouse in New Hampshire for a summer season while Cataldo was here in Warsaw. She then went to New York, and then the COVID-19 pandemic hit so she moved back home, doing a bunch of different gigs to save money.

She was able to play the Dolly Parton role in a production of “9 to 5.” After “Elf, the Musical” at Wagon Wheel, she will head down to Florida for a production of “Urinetown,” which “will be super fun as well,” she said.

The pandemic did affect the tour of “Escape to Margaritaville,” too, Cataldo said.

“We toured for a couple months, from September to March, and then got shut down until August of this year. And just went back and finished the last little leg of the tour August to November, which is a nice quick lag, and then we closed,” he said.

He said “Escape to Margaritaville” would “absolutely” be a hit if and when it ever comes to the Wagon Wheel. He said he’s already talked to Artistic Director Scott Michaels about that.

“It’s so fun. It’s nice. It’s fun. You come to have a good time. It’s low stakes. It’s a jukebox musical. Everybody loved ‘Mamma Mia!’ We did that and I feel like it’s very, very similar,” he said.

This production is the first time for Echausse and Cataldo to perform in “Elf, the Musical.”

As for the music in “Elf,” Echausse said, “It’s super fun. Bouncy. Vibrant. You’ll see a lot of similar themes throughout the show. It kind of helps with setting. This is not a jukebox musical. ... It’s separate from the movie. The movie doesn’t have songs, so it’s written specifically for the musical. There’s a lot of catchy jingles though. You’ll find yourself tapping your feet a lot during the show.”

Cataldo said he and Echausse do sing songs together, but they’re not the traditional ones like you’d find in “Oklahoma!”

The cast is about 15 people, with local children playing elves. Cataldo said he enjoys working with the kids.

“Traditionally, the show is done with an adult ensemble, just on their knees walking about. But that’s difficult to do with theater-in-the-round, because you can see the feet, so what (Michaels) has done is he’s used the local talent of children, which is nice. They’re so sweet,” he said.

“They’re adorable,” Echausse agreed. “They’re very passionate about it. They’re cute.”

She said audiences should come to “Elf” just ready to have a good time.

Dates and times for “Elf, the Musical” at the Wagon Wheel are 7 p.m. Dec. 3-4, Dec. 10-11, Dec. 17-18 and 2 p.m. Dec. 5, 12 and 19.

Tickets can be purchased at the box office or online at wagonwheelcenter.org. Tickets are $40 for adults, $35 for seniors 60 and older, $20 for students 13 to college, $15 for children 12 and under and $30 each for groups of 15 or more.