Cotton-headed ninny-muggins! 'Elf The Musical' returns to New York

NEW YORK -- The Christmas musical based on Will Ferrell's movie "Elf" has returned to New York for the holidays, led by a stage and TV veteran whose oldest child's first Broadway show was -- that's right -- "Elf.

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Eric Petersen's 5-year-old daughter, Sophia, caught the show a few winters ago and adored it. Years later, she sat mesmerized for several hours watching her dad at a rehearsal of the show.

"My daughter loves theatre so much and so she's been going to shows well before most kids go," Petersen said. "I'm in trouble. She's totally a show kid. It's very apparent."

Petersen plays Buddy in the touring musical that plays The Theater at Madison Square Garden until Dec. 27. He's joined by a cast that includes J.B. Adams as Santa and Veronica J. Kuehn as Buddy's love interest.

"I really love playing the character," said Petersen. "I feel like I get to do so much fun stuff -- physical comedy, which is my bag, and I get to do a little bit of a love story. It's the whole package."

The musical opens in the North Pole, where Buddy learns he's not an elf but a human. It then charts his journey in search of his father in Manhattan, perking up everyone he meets.

Petersen looks nothing like Ferrell but director Sam Scalamoni said that was never a goal. "It has to be somebody who understands the comedy and the heart of the piece," he said. "Funny is great, but if there's not heart, then I don't care. Eric is such a balance of both."

The musical's story, adapted by Tony Award winners Thomas Meehan ("The Producers," "Hairspray") and Bob Martin ("The Drowsy Chaperone"), preserves many of the familiar punch lines from Ferrell's hilarious 2003 film. Yet with its big, catchy numbers, it doesn't have the feel of a show that was plucked from the screen and retrofitted for the stage.

Now-classic lines from the movie are intact, such as Buddy's PG-rated swear "cotton-headed ninny-muggins" and when he confronts a department store Santa by hissing, "You smell like beef and cheese." A new opening number -- "Happy All the Time" -- has jumped from the last Broadway version to the tour.

Petersen, who lives in Los Angeles, has carved a career in both TV and stage, earning credits on the TVLand sitcom "Kirstie" and "The Brittany Murphy Story." He was on Broadway in "Peter & The Starcatcher" and "Shrek: The Musical."

It was while starring as Shrek in the first national tour that Sophia arrived and joined him and his wife, Lisa, on the road. Petersen and his daughter soon shared a special routine: She would poke daddy on the nose and he would reciprocate.

Sophia grew comfortable having Shrek around but Petersen didn't know for a time if his little girl really knew daddy was inside all that makeup. One day while he was in full Shrek get-up, she poked him on the nose. "I was like, 'OK, you know that it's daddy under all of this stuff."'

This time on the road, there's less makeup to play Buddy, and Sophia has a baby brother, 10-month-old Miles. The whole gang will be coming into town for Christmas. After all, Sophia may need to give him some tips.


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