‘The Happy Elf’ Nice List: Meet costume designer/production manager Dawn McGurl
“The Happy Elf” is a musical comedy by Grammy Award-winning and Tony Award-nominated composer and lyricist Harry Connick, Jr. The show follows Eubie the Elf, one of Santa’s helpers who wants to spread Christmas joy to the town of Bluesville, a place that’s straight-up miserable.
The production process has been underway for months, resulting in nearly 90 actors, from kindergarten age to adults and from local areas, being cast in September.
We caught up with several other busy “elves” – those who have been working tirelessly on the show to make it one of the most spectacular, unique, and heartwarming productions to cross the Cultural Center’s stage – and created a series called the “Nice List” to introduce them to the public. Check back all this week for Q&As with the crew members – up first is costume designer and production manager Dawn McGurl.
NEPA SCENE: If you were one of Santa’s elves, what type of toys would you most like to build?
DAWN MCGURL: I think I would love to design and make doll clothes.
NS: What has been your previous theater experience?
DM: I have always loved theater. When I was a young girl, I would put on plays in my grandparent’s basement with my sister and my friends. Magazines such as “McCall’s” and “Good Housekeeping” would publish short plays in their Christmas issues, and I would put those on for my family. My husband Brian and I have been the drama club directors at Dunmore High School for the past 10 years, and that has been an amazing experience for us!
NS: Tell us about the costumes for this quirky performance.
DM: Lots of Christmas colors, but also the dull colors of Bluesville. We have Elves of all kinds, and they all have their own spin on being an elf, including our cool Santa!
NS: What is the process of acquiring all the costumes for such a large cast?
DM: Well, every show you design is different. This show is a combination of made, bought, and reconstructed and redesigned off the rack.
NS: What character in the show wears your favorite getup?
DM: I would have to say Santa. But I also really like Gilda; she is such a great character, and the actress playing her is really great! I really love them all!
NS: You have to outfit a great number of people. What’s it like working with such a large group?
DM: Actually, there are 85 in the cast and there are a few costume changes, so it is a big show. I have done big shows before, but this is a large one for sure! It can be overwhelming to dress that many actors. You have to just focus on the fact that you are costuming one actor at a time.
The challenge in a large show is to assist the director’s and choreographer’s visions by helping to focus with costuming the action of the show. Costumes can really make or break a show. In this show, they need to be exciting, but not distracting; traditional but not boring. I hope the audience will like our vision!
NS: You are also the production manager. What does that role entail?
DM: Well, the job really is what is says; you manage the production, from casting through the finished show! Finding housing for the cast, getting the PR out about the show, putting together rehearsal schedules, working with all our sponsors and media partners, making sure everyone is doing what needs to be done to move the show forward. It is a lot of hard work, but I will be feeling great once the show is up on Dec. 19 and the public has had a chance to see all the hard work that this talented creative team and cast and crew have put into it!
NS: There are so many Christmas tales out there this time of year. What sets “The Happy Elf” apart from the rest?
DM: Well, the first thing is the amazing music written by Harry Connick, Jr. The score is so good! It is full of jazz, blues, and lots of toe-tapping tunes. The story is a timeless tale of friendship, love, and redemption. This show is not a “kiddie show,” but truly is for all ages – even adults will find it delightful, funny, and tuneful!
by Sara Pokorny
Sara is a NEPA native, New England transplant - marketing whiz by day, journalist by night. Lover of all things food and fashion.