“We could have cast multiple people as all the leads because we had a lot of talent at the audition,” said Laurel Olsen, language arts instructor at Denison High School (DHS).
“We had a really nice turnout and a nice mix of kids, high schoolers and adults.”
Following the casting session last Tuesday evening, Olsen and DHS vocal teacher (and co-director) Kandice Thompson selected 79 people for the cast of this fall’s community musical, “Elf.”
The community musical is a production with a cast drawn from the community as a whole, rather than just from the schools.
“It was very fun to watch auditions because everyone had a lot of energy and did a great job, even though it was a long night,” Olsen said. “We were there until 10 (p.m.) by the time we finished with the leads.”
Junior DHS student Isaac Leinen was cast as the lead character, “Buddy.”
“When we were originally looking for someone for Buddy we were looking for someone with a lot of enthusiasm and energy and captured that sparkle that is a joy of the character,” Olsen said.
Making a final decision on Buddy was difficult because a number of excellent actors auditioned for the part, she said.
After last Tuesday’s four-hour casting session, Olsen and Thompson were exhausted and decided to sleep on the casting decisions.
They were able to quickly make almost all of the cast assignments – except for Buddy.
“We did have several people come back and read for the part of Buddy and sing after school on Wednesday,” Olsen said. “That was really the only thing we had callbacks for, which is pretty unusual because a lot of times we end up having to do multiple roles for callbacks. We were in agreement on most of the parts so it fell together pretty quickly.”
In the end, they felt Leinen was the best fit for the lead role.
Senior Brooke Kropf was chosen for the role of “Jovie,” who is Buddy’s girlfriend.
“She has worked really hard and will do a nice job in that role,” Olsen said.
Denison Middle School vocal music teacher Tylor Schulte and 2010 DHS graduate Taylor Borkowski were cast in the role of the parents, Walter and Emily. Both are on the younger side, which is why it made sense to cast high school students as Buddy and Jovie.
“Tyler Schulte and Taylor Borkowski both have previous experience in musicals and both have gorgeous voices,” Olsen said. “We think that will be a nice match.”
DHS instrumental music teacher Ruben Newell was chosen for the part of Santa Claus.
“You could say we chose Mr. Newell for Santa Claus just because he has a beard but that wasn’t the only reason,” Olsen said. “He is also a very strong actor and singer and he’s got a great sense of underlying humor to the things he says, so I think that will add a lot of fun to the role of Santa Claus.”
District 18 Representative Steve Holt was cast as Greenway, the intimidating boss.
“He has a lot of previous experience with shows in the community, as well,” she said. “He has a strong speaking voice and he’s a good actor. He’ll be great in that role.”
Holt’s wife, Crystal, DHS social sciences teacher, will play Walter’s secretary, Deb.
“Crystal has great facial expressions and good comic timing,” Olsen said. “She’s a natural actress so I think that will be a good fit for her, too.”
Actors cast in the other main roles are Ethan Olsen as Michael, Logan Tibben as the manager, Reed Bowker as Chadwick, Jack MacGregor as Matthews, Kerri Miller as Mrs. Claus, Bennett Schneider as Charlie and Joni Schmidt as Tiara.
Olsen said one unusual aspect of the casting session was the large number of high school boys that auditioned.
“I’m guessing that is probably partly because of the many roles that are available,” she said. “There are a lot more male roles than female roles for featured parts. It worked out well because we have a whole scene of fake Santa Clauses that will be mostly high school guys as well as some community members.”
One of the first challenges is to work out a schedule that will allow everyone the time to learn their roles.
“We’re looking ahead, trying to figure out when and how you are going to get through all of the material and make sure everyone has a chance to practice everything, do the blocking and movements and singing and choreography for all the scenes,” she said. “I think we have that mostly nailed down.”
In the first three weeks of rehearsal the cast will go through the play, learn the music and begin to block the scenes.
“Most people had very open schedules and were really flexible about when they could come to practice and that made things easy with scheduling,” Olsen said. “We didn’t have a ton of other things in the way.”
About 20 children were cast as elves. They will be joined on the stage by eight high school students, who will also play elves and will achieve a smaller stature the old-fashioned way.
“They are going to have to get their knee pads out and start working on that,” she said. “It should be a lot of fun.”
Creating the sets for the production will be a major task.
“We are going to be renting a few backdrops for the show but we will also be constructing some of the scenery,” Olsen said.
The first act alone has 12 scenes and 10 different locations.
“It goes back and forth and back and forth to a lot of different places,” she said. “We have to make sure we can get all that constructed and get used to practicing with it.”
Costuming will be one of the more straightforward tasks for the show.
“Costuming a huge cast can be a big job but I think the nice thing about this show is, because it’s in a modern day setting, a lot of the actors will be able to use their own clothes,” she said.
Ten elf costumes will be rented.
Putting all the pieces together will be the goal of the rehearsals between now and November 8, which is the date of the first performance.
“If you’ve got the right people for the job, the rest of it often just falls in place,” Olsen said, “so we were really happy with how the cast turned out.”