A scene during “Elf: The Musical” with Buddy the Elf and the store manager. (Photo courtesy of “Elf: The Musical”)
A scene during “Elf: The Musical” with Buddy the Elf and the store manager. (Photo courtesy of “Elf: The Musical”)
BY ERIN COX

DHI Media News Editor

ecox@timesbulletin.com

VAN WERT — “Elf: The Musical” will bring Christmas cheer to the Niswonger Performing Arts Center on Monday.

Based on the popular movie “Elf” starring Will Ferrell, the musical will follow Buddy the Elf as he travels to New York City to find his birth father, discover his true identity and help New York remember the true meaning of Christmas.

Darius Manuel plays the store manager in the musical and says the musical adds another family aspect to the story that he hopes the audience will enjoy.

“The musical just takes it one step further because it evolves it into live, musical entertainment,” Manuel said.

“There are some twists, that I don’t want to give away, in the musical that are a little different than the movie, but what audiences can expect to see is that there’s still that same fun, loving Buddy the Elf that they see in the movie. It’s the same thing in the musical,” he added. “A lot of the characters are more flesh out in the musical. There’s a lot more story and also there’s a lot of songs and dancing in the musical. There’s a lot of jokes for adults that are parallel to the jokes in the movie, so you still get all those classic jokes that we all love, but in addition to that there’s beautiful dance breaks, beautiful sets, colorful costumes for kids to enjoy.”

Manuel was a senior at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia when he was able to get agent representation by Jamie Baker Management. The first audition his agent sent him on was the audition for “Elf.”

“I remember the movie because my family used to watch it when I was younger, but it was something that I really didn’t know was a musical, so when I went in for the audition, I was like this a cool parallel universe type of thing,” he said.

He was hoping that he would get the part after a wonderful audition experience, but as he waited for the decision of who got the parts, he headed back home to Florida.

There he was directing “Carrie: The Musical” at the Florida Children’s Theatre where he grew up performing.

“Janet Erlick, the artistic director there, encouraged me to taste my theatre dreams when I thought that it wasn’t possible,” Manuel said. As a way to give back, each summer during his college career, he returned home to Florida to teach students from elementary to high school about what he learned at college.

When he was given the part of the store manage in “Elf,” Manuel had to leave the Halloween-spirited “Carrie” production early to begin rehearsing for the Christmas-spirited “Elf.”

“It was definitely a huge jump, a huge transition, but for the better definitely,” he laughed.

The cast rehearsed for about two and a half weeks and performed preview shows in Elmira, New York, on Nov. 4 and 5.

“It was a pretty quick process, but because our creative team was so passionate and they have done this before, so they were easily able to relay all the information to us all while giving us the ability to play inside of these roles,” Manuel said.

“Elf: The Musical” will be at the Niswonger Performing Arts Center at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 21.

“I’ve had a great time doing it and it’s been so much fun being with these amazing cast members every night and it’s been so much fun actually touring the country with them,” Manuel said. “I hope the audience members have just as much fun watching the show as we do putting it on.”