‘The Happy Elf’ Nice List: Meet music director Sheri Melcher
“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 – next on the list is music director Sheri Melcher.
NEPA SCENE: If you were one of Santa’s elves, what type of toys would you most like to build?
SHERI MELCHER: Since I’m a musician, I love all these toys that are so innovative now because of technology. They have these hybrid instruments now that have multiple features or a tech component where you can create your own music. I would do instrument making, putting together things where kids can compose and create their own music.
NS: What has been your previous theater experience?
SM: I’ve been a music educator for over 20 years and a professional pianist. During that time, I’ve been working with middle and high schools, university programs, community theater, professional theater, musical theater, and directing.
NS: You had a chance to work on this project even before this go-round in Scranton. What was that like?
SM: It has been a unique project, as the music director doesn’t always have so much involvement with the composer and arranger; that very rarely, if ever, happens. Michael and I worked on the project years ago when it was first brought to Bethlehem. We got to shoot around the table with Harry and talk about the score. That’s stuff music directors dream of, especially working with someone like that. I’ve been a fan all my life; I admire his musicianship. He’s a genius, so to sit across from him and hear what he wants to do with the score… it was amazing.
NS: What type of music will audiences hear throughout the show?
SM: Very sing-able melodies, catchy tunes, but they’re not all upbeat, happy, perky sort of children’s tunes. They’re all very different, like big swing numbers, a couple of beautiful ballads, New Orleans shuffle, an awesome blues number – which is clearly given to the mayor of Bluesville – a march. There’s an interesting number with the three main elves. There’s Eubie and two little elf buddies – one is Gilda and the other is Hamm. They’re like three elf “BFFs,” and they’re adorable together. Their song is almost like “together at last, together forever” – happy, fun, we’re so awesome together friendship sort of song.
NS: Do you have a favorite song?
SM: You know, they’re all great; none of it’s a struggle, like, “Oh God, I have to do that one again.” It’s so fun, and everything is very sing-able and the cast is really excited about it. I would say “Santariffic” is my favorite. There’s a trombone player who has been touring with him since he was in his early 20s, Lucian Barber. There’s an instance where Harry is playing “Santariffic” with his band and he has Lucian come up to sing the Santa role, so I’ve had that sound of Lucian in my ear when we were casting him.
NS: There are so many Christmas tales out there this time of year. What sets “The Happy Elf” apart from the rest?
SM: It has a beautiful message, as most of them do, but I think what’s so nice about this one is it’s not just for kids. There’s a lot of nuance in it that I think the adults will appreciate, almost like a Pixar movie. The music, too, no doubt. I can’t think of another Christmas show that has this level of artistry. Most Christmas stories clearly don’t have jazz as its core. The characters are fantastic, lovable in most cases and, even if they’re not, they’re hilarious.
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.