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Interview: Connor McKenna and ELF THE MUSICAL at The Growing Stage

Interview: Connor McKenna and ELF THE MUSICAL at The Growing Stage

The Growing Stage, The Children's Theatre of New Jersey, located in the Historic Palace Theatre in Netcong kicks off the holiday season with ELF The Musical from November 29 through December 22. Performances are on Fridays at 7:30 pm and Saturdays and Sundays at 4:00 pm. The show is based on the cherished 2003 New Line Cinema hit by the same name. The Growing Stage production features direction by Lori B. Lawrence, Director of Educational Programming, choreography by Jillian Petrie and musical direction by Stephen Fox.

The show features the talents of three professional equity performers in the cast: James D. Lynch as Walter Hobbs; Lisa Winkler as Emily Hobbs and Colleen Lis as Deb. Rounding out the cast are 16 performers, adults and young people from all across the state, that include Connor McKenna as Buddy the Elf and Olivia Clavel-Davis as Jovie.

ELF The Musical introduces us to Buddy, a young orphan, mistakenly crawls into Santa's bag of gifts and is transported to the North Pole. The would-be elf is raised, unaware that he is actually a human, until his enormous size and poor toy-making abilities cause him to face the truth. With Santa's permission, Buddy embarks on a journey to New York City to find his birth father and discover his true identity. Faced with the harsh realities that his father is on the naughty list and his half-brother doesn't even believe in Santa, Buddy is determined to win over his new family and help New York remember the true meaning of Christmas. had the pleasure of interviewing Connor McKenna about his career and his role as Buddy in Elf at The Growing Stage.

McKenna is ecstatic to be making his Growing Stage debut. He recently graduated from Kean University with a B.F.A in Theatre Performance. Regional Credits: Linger (Bobby US.) and Las Cruces (Robbie). Other Credits: The Boys Next Door (Jack Palmer),Seussical (Cat in the Hat), Julius Caesar (Mark Anthony), Wizard of Oz (Scarecrow) and Dogfight (Bernstein).

What was your earliest interest in the performing arts?

I started performing in the church at a very early age, since my dad wrote and directed many Christmas and Easter plays. I played either baby Jesus or a young shepard. Every opportunity I had growing up performing was a gift, I started to become comfortable with strangers and found what I loved to do. Once I got to middle school and was given the opportunity to peform in the school plays, I was hooked. I never stopped since which persisted in Highschool and four years of college. I was given a place to fit in and a group of people who cared about who I was and what I needed. My confidence only started to get boosted.

Tell us a little about your education at Kean University.

In May of 2019, I graduated with my B.F.A in Theatre Performance from Kean University. When I was looking at colleges, I knew I needed to find a place where I would be involved and encouraged. At Kean, I found all of that and more in the Theatre Conservatory. My four years of training taught me that no matter your role in the process of putting up a show, you must go above and beyond. All the hours spent researching and diving into characters and playwrights has allowed me as an actor to feel secure in the world that I am working in and the indiviuals I find myself playing with. I was able to perform with Tony Award Winners such as Kelli O'Hara as well as the illustrious Patti LuPone and gain perfessional experience acting for Premiere Stages, Kean's equity theater in residence. My favorite memory of college was being able to sit down with the Prince of Broadway, Hal Prince, before he passed away, and discuss the artist's journey and pick apart his brain about our biggest questions. The experiences I had at Kean were extremely influencial for me and help guide the way I work today.

I know that you have done many children's performances. Why do you think it is so important for young people to see theatre?

Theatre is a no strings attached opportunity for young minds to be influenced positvely and get their imaginations pumping. SInce we all live in a world of constant feeds and comments, being able to detach yourself at any age is extremely beneficial. As a performer, my job is to take the stress and hesitiations away for one to two hours a night, taking audiences on a journey they've never been on before. Unlike TV and film, theatre is an activity that is literally happening right in front of you. If you really wanted to you could go onstage and see that we're real, (I really don't suggest you do that). In the end, young people need stimulation as their brains are maturing, so why don't you help and take them to the theatre?

How do you like working at The Growing Stage?

Working at The Growing Stage has been one of the greatest gifts of my life. When I first stepped into the theater a few years ago, when I came to see a show, I was immediatey overtaken with a warm and safe feeling, unlike I have ever felt in a theater before. The staff at The Growing Stage are the absolute best and allow us as the actors to have the most fun. I couldn't have been luckier with the cast and crew I am currently working with, I am blest to be accepted by each and every one of them. I can't wait to see what amazing things they all do next!

Tell us a little about playing the iconic role of Buddy in Elf.

Being that Elf is one of my favorite movies of all time, the task of bringing justice to the character is incredibly daunting. I remember seeing the film with Will Ferrell at the movie theater with my family and thinking to myself, "Hey! He is just like me." Since Buddy is so dynamic, I am able to pay homage to what people know as well as being able to bring my essence to the character. Having the opportunity to channel Buddy's intense joy and overwhelming kindness everyday makes me feel like the luckiest person on the planet. It is so rare that a part like this comes along and I just get to have fun and quote all of my favorite lines from the film. And remember, "The best way to spread Christmas cheer, is by singing lound for all to hear!"

What would you like metro area audiences to know about the show?

Audiences should know that Elf the Musical is everything that you could wish for and more! The show has many of your favorite scenes and lines with some fun added twists. Many of your favorite characters are not only in it, but they also sing and dance. It is the perfect show for all ages, whether you are 5 or 85, its one good time. The message is the exact message we all need to hear right now, one of hope, love, kindness and perserverance.

Can you share any of your plans for the future?

I will continue to pursue my dreams of making a name for myself in this business and keep on telling great stories with whomever is interested in listening. Being able to have opportunities like this one is nothing short of a miracle and I am for sure soaking up every single second of it. Thank you to everyone who has helped guide me to where I am, I surely would not be the actor I am today without you!

You can follow Connor on Instagram @connor___mckenna; on Facebook: @ConnorMcKennaActor and visit his web site at

Ticket prices for ELF The Musical at the Growing Stage are $28 for adults, $22 for seniors, and $18 for children. The Theatre is located at 7 Ledgewood Avenue, Netcong, NJ 07857. To purchase tickets, please visit or call (973) 347-4946. Group rates and Season Membership Plans are still available.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Connor McKenna

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