“Elf the Musical” Brings Christmas Cheer to the Stage at DPAC!

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Matt Kopec (Buddy) and the cast of “Elf the Musical” (Photo by Joan Marcus)

It’s hard to believe that just a few days ago it was 70 degrees in the Triangle. Fast forward to this week and it finally felt like the holiday season had arrived in Durham this past Tuesday as my wife and I made our way to DPAC for opening night of  “Elf the Musical”. By the end of the evening we had visions of dancing elves and the melody from the song “Buddy the Elf” cheerfully running through our heads

As we hustled into the theater to escape the cold outside before the show I saw more than a few Santa hats and even a few audience members people completely decked out in elf costumes. Christmas cheer was in the air! I’m a big fan of the 2003 hit movie “Elf” and was excited to see the live production on stage.

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“Elf the Musical” (Photo by Joan Marcus)

The touring production does a nice job transitioning the hit movie to the stage with the help of a talented cast and some wonderfully designed sets. There are a few minor changes to the story to condense the plot and make time for the musical numbers, but all the major elements of the story from the film are still there. Eric Williams delivers a cheerful performance as Buddy the Elf as he journeys from the North Pole to New York City in search of his birth father, only discover that his real Dad is a workaholic and has lost the his Christmas spirit.

Having grown up surrounded by elves and living off a diet of candy and maple syrup, Buddy is a fish out of water in the big city, but manages to spread Christmas cheer to everyone he encounters as he works on building a relationship with his real Dad and family. In the process buddy helps the people of New York rediscover the true meaning of Christmas.

The production does a wonderful job bringing the movie to life on stage with a colorful and magical set designs by Christine Peters that capture the mythical spirit of the North Pole and the larger than life feel of bustling New York City Streets. The beautifully choreographed dance numbers by Connor Gallagher add a dose of razzle dazzle to this holiday story and serve as a reminder that underneath those elf costumes and business suites the company on stage really knows how to deliver a dance number.


Matt Kopec (Buddy) and the cast of “Elf the Musical” (Photo by Joan Marcus)

In addition to Eric Williams as Buddy, other standout performances included that of Grady Miranda as Buddy’s brother. He has a strong signing voice with vocal chops beyond his years and was beautifully paired with Caitlin Lester-Sams as his mother. Together the two delivered some of the most moving duets of the night.  I also liked  the way John Adkison portrays Buddy’s Father, Walter Hobbs. He is less angry than in the movie and does a nice job of embodying the work focused dad who, while well meaning has lost his way.  The manner in which he stands up for Buddy and his family in the end will warm your heart.

Going to see a Christmas show like this live on stage is a wonderful way to build delightful holiday memories with your kids. Elf the Musical is fun and endearing show, that spreads Christmas cheer and the importance of family and makes for a fun night out with the ones you love. You’ll leave the theater smiling and humming the closing number as you ease back into the holiday hustle. Remember, “the best way to spread Christmas Cheer is singing loud for all to hear.” – Buddy the Elf

“Elf The Musical” has performances through Sunday, December 9th at The Durham Performing Arts Center. For more information and to get tickets visit: https://www.dpacnc.com/events/detail/elf



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Elf The Musical Arrives at DPAC Just in Time for the Holidays!

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Matt Kopec (Buddy)and Gordon Gray (Santa) in “Elf the Musical”
(Photo by Joan Marcus)

It may be 60 degrees today in the Triangle, but make no mistake, we are in the throws of the Holidays and Christmas is only three weeks away! And just in time for the holidays  “Elf The Musical”  is rolling into town with performances at DPAC starting this Tuesday, December 4th through Sunday December 9th.

It’s hard to believe “Elf” first hit the big screen over 15 years ago and has become a modern Christmas Classic. The movie made the transition to the stage as a musical in 2010 featuring jazzy upbeat score by Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin. And ever since then the touring production returns to delight audiences each holiday season. If you’re like me you have probably seen the movie, but I am really looking forward to seeing this story in a musical format and transformed into a live production.


Matt Kopec (Buddy) and the cast of “Elf The Musical”
(Photo by Joan Marcus)

The musical tells the hilarious tale of Buddy, a young orphan child who through a mishap ends up working in Santa’s workshop in the North Pole. Unaware that he is actually human, Buddy’s enormous size and poor toy-making abilities cause him to face the truth leading him to embark on a journey to New York City to find his birth father. Along the way he will discover his true identity, learn what its like to have a family and help New Yorkers remember the true meaning of Christmas.

In preparation of the show I had a chance to speak to actor John Adkison by phone. John plays Walter Hobbs, Buddy’s birth father and a guy who always seems to be on Santa’s Naught List.


Actor John Adkison plays Walter Hobbs in “Elf The Musical” opening at DPAC this Tuesday

This is John’s second holiday season touring with the “Elf the Musical”. His other credits include playing Harold Hill the national touring production of The Music Man and numerous regional theater productions such as Damn Yankees (Mr. Applegate), 1776 (John Hancock), Grease (Vince Fontaine) and Disney’s Beauty & the Beast (Lumiere). When not on stage John works as an independent filmmaker developing documentaries by This’n That Films. For the past 16 years, each holiday season (when is not on tour with Elf) he has also performed as part of a professional Christmas Caroling Group in California.

How is the Theater Production of Elf different from the Movie?
Well the story stays true to the movie in many ways but there are a few changes that are made for the transition to the stage. All of your favorite scenes are still there, but we’ve added a few elements for the stage production but the story is still the same. Santa, Buddy, and all the main characters are there, but there may be small shifts in their personality. Like my character Walter. James Caan is wonderful in that role. For the stage production Walter is less of an angry executive and played off more as just a super busy businessman who doesn’t make time for his family.

What do you hope people take away from seeing the show?
The holidays about family, whoever that may be, taking the time to slow down, connect with the ones you love and share time with family. This is a wonderful show with a great cast that can really put on a performance with a lot of energy and holiday spirit. I think the audience is in for a real holiday treat!

What is your favorite part of the show?
Honestly there are so many great numbers, both those I am in and those that I am not. At the end of the day my favorite part of the show is seeing the reaction of the audience members and the children watching the show. Sometimes I’ll hear a child yell out a warning to buddy, or see somebody dancing in their seat just having the time of their life. Those moments of witnessing joy are my favorite part of the show.

In addition to acting you are also an independent film maker. What is it like trying to balance both careers?
I consider myself very lucky to have both the opportunity to act and produce independent films. When I am not working with a production I am working on my own film projects. But I have a love for both. My major in school was film / television production with a minor in theater. I can sing, dance, and act but I also love to produce independent films. I am very fortunate!

What do you like to do when you visit a city on tour?
I make documentaries so you know I love history. I love checking out local museums and monuments in every city I visit and take in as much history as I can while I am on the road. I’ve spent time in North Carolina before working in a regional theater in Blowing Rock, NC and I am looking forward to visiting Durham for the first time!

“Elf The Musical” has performances Tuesday, December 2nd, through Sunday, December 9th at The Durham Performing Arts Center. For more information and to get tickets visit: https://www.dpacnc.com/events/detail/elf

Special Note: DPAC will host an Autism-Friendly performance of Elf on Saturday, December 8th, at 10am. There will be less loud noises and flashing lights that could be challenging to some audience members. DPAC will also have designated areas to help make the experience more enjoyable for those with autism and other sensitivity issues. For more details about this sensory friendly performance visit their DPAC website here.




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Liturgy Beverage to Open in Durham Food Hall


Liturgy Beverage Company is a new retail coffee, tea, and chocolate business coming to the Durham Food Hall (in the Central Park neighborhood of Durham) in early 2019. Their goal is to build meaningful relationships with their guests and serve drinks that highlight the many hands that make each beverage possible and connect the community with the hard work and stories behind their drinks.

In order to get their retail space open, they need to raise $20,000 to cover the final touches of build-out and opening retail inventory (think swag). You can visit their kickstarter page here to learn more and contribute.

Liturgy currently operates as a coffee catering business and is a great addition to Durham and the Triangle coffee community. I am really looking forward to them opening their brick & mortar location in the Durham Food Hall and sharing about their new space once they open. To learn more about Liturgy visit their facebook page https://www.facebook.com/liturgybeverage/.

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Cheerwine Holiday Punch Cocktail Recipes!

With the holidays fast approaching it’s time to work on some new cocktail recipes to share with friends. So I’ve partnered with Cheerwine, the family-owned soft drink made right here in North Carolina, to create a holiday cocktail with a southern twist. This cocktail features Cheerwine’s “Holiday Punch”- which mixes the iconic cherry flavor with bright, bubbly ginger ale and tangy pineapple. It is the perfect mixer and goes well with just about any spirit from bourbon to vodka and makes for a fun festive drink!

This special punch only comes around once a year for the holidays and you can find it on shelves in the Carolinas now through December 31st. The recipe below is for what I like to call the Cheerwine “Merry Martini”. These instructions make drinks for two, but can be easily modified to create the perfect punch bowl for your big party.

The Cheerwine Merry Martini
• 4 ounces Vodka
• 1 ounce Triple Sec
• 1 ounce Lime Juice
• 2 ounces Orange Juice
• 2 ounces Cranberry Juice
• 6 ounces Cheerwine Holiday Punch
• Lime slice for garnish
• Himalayan Sea Salt
• Ice

Fill a cocktail shaker halfway with ice. Add vodka, triple sec with lime, cranberry and orange juice & shake well. Add 6 ounces of Holiday Cheerwine to the mix & stir until perfectly chilled. Rub a lime wedge around the rim of the martini glass and salt the rim w/ Himalayan Sea Salt. Add lime slice garnish. Strain & pour chilled contents into the martini glass w/ salted rim & enjoy!

Quick Bonus Recipe: The Cheerwine “Christmas Cuba Libre”

• 2 ounces Rum
• 5 ounce Cheerwine Holiday Punch
• Crushed Candy Cane
• Lime slice
• Ice

This is super easy drink to make. Just fill a rocks glass with ice and add five ounces to Cheerwine Holiday Punch to two ounces of your favorite rum and stir. To add a little holiday flare crush up a candy cane and use a lime wedge to wet the rim of the glass and “salt” the rim using the crushed candy cane. Add a slice of lime for garnish and enjoy!

I hope you enjoy the recipes I shared above or creating your own cocktail ideas using this special holiday punch from Cheerwine. If you have any recipe ideas you would like to share feel free to comment below. Happy Holidays!

About Cheerwine: Uniquely Southern
Created in 1917 by L.D. Peeler, Cheerwine is a one-of-a-kind soft drink with a unique cherry flavor. It is an iconic brand from Salisbury, North Carolina. Owned by the Carolina Beverage Corporation, the 101-year-old company is still privately owned and managed by the same founding family, five generations of whom have worked there. Cliff Ritchie leads Cheerwine as president and CEO. Available in supermarkets, restaurants, mass merchandisers and convenience stores in select states nationwide and cheerwine.com. For more information, follow Cheerwine on Facebook at facebook.com/cheerwine or on Twitter and Instagram @drinkcheerwine.

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The Cast of Hamilton Delivers at DPAC


Joseph Morales and Marcus Choi – Hamilton National Tour
(photo by Joan Marcus)

Ever since it was announced that the touring production of “Hamilton” would be making a stop in Durham it has been the most sought after ticket at DPAC. The show opened this month on November 6th – election night no less, for what is expected to be a string of sellout performances in the Bull City with shows running through December 2nd.

What can I say about this show that has not been said before? This musical exceeded all of my expectations. It was is one of those rare and beautiful instances where something with a lot of buzz really does live up to all the hype.

Like many before me I wondered how a hip-hop based musical about one of our nation’s more obscure founding fathers would work. But work it does and on so many levels. Hip-hop is not just a music style it is also the voice for the underprivileged – a perfect match for the title character who is an orphaned outsider from the west indies, who for all his influence on the founding of our government, will never be eligible to be president.


Elijah Malcomb, Jospeh Morales, Kyle Scatliffe, Fergie L Philippe & Company
Hamilton National Tour
(photo by Joan Marcus)

In retrospect delivering the story of Alexander Hamilton in the hip-hop style makes perfect sense and is actually a pure stroke of genius. First of all there with so many historical characters in the show and the extensive history covered in both acts, there is simply a massive amount of information the audience needs to take in.

It just so happens that hip-hop fits four times as many words into each measure of music compared to other styles of music – making hip hop a perfect delivery mechanism. But the real genius of it all is that through the fusion of hip hop and the musical form, the creators of this show transform American history into a contemporary format reflecting the fact the America’s history and the road ahead belongs to all men and women regardless of their color.

The show starts off fast and does not let up until the intermission. In the first number “Alexander Hamilton” we are introduced to the title character , played by Joseph Morales, his compatriots, including the man who will ultimately take his life – Aaron Burr, played by the incredible Nik Walker.


Shoba Narayan, Ta’ Rea Campbell and Nyla Sostre – Hamilton National Tour
(photo by Joan Marcus)

Every single member of this cast delivers a performance that makes you think they were born for the role they are playing. Morales and Walker are wonderful as Hamilton and Burr. Both command the room whenever they are on stage and when they share it you can sense the growing tension of these one-time friends drifting apart through life as their beliefs and politics evolve resulting in their tragic duel in the final act.

The entire ensemble is so strong, but a few really stand out. Like Shoba Narayan as Eliza Hamilton, Marcus Choi as George Washington and Kyle Scatliffe as Thomas Jefferson. It was a pleasure seeing each of these actors pouring their souls into these historical figures and their portrayal of their unique personalities.

And I just can’t say enough about the actors who played Burr and King George. I felt that every time Nik Walker or Jon Patrick Walker (King George III) were on stage they stole the scene if not the show.

The set itself is kind of secondary to what you are seeing on stage and doesn’t really change much throughout the performance. I’m not sure if the muted scenery was done on purpose, but in the end that works perfectly and lets the focus be on the actors and their words.

Transitions from scene to scene are seamless and the use of simple props works well. There is also the crafty use of a rotating stage that works wonders for scenes where multiple actors are walking and interacting, providing multiple perspectives of the action as well as smart “rewind” and slow motion sequences.

In the end “Hamilton” is a cultural wonder with choreography and vocals that are among the best I have ever seen. With its talented cast, this touring production delivers an amazing theater experience on all levels . I am grateful that this production made a stop in Durham and that I had the opportunity to see such a wonderful show that is making a cultural impact that is sure to continue for years to come.

Tickets for “Hamilton” are hard to come by, but don’t lose all hope of seeing the show if you don’t yet have a ticket in hand. You still have a chance to nab one of the 40 tickets released in advance of each performance for purchase by a special ticket lottery.

Hamilton” performs at the Durham Performing Arts Center through December 2nd. To learn more about how to enter the ticket lottery visit: https://www.dpacnc.com/news/detail/announcing-ham4ham-lottery

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