STORY WRITTEN BY TARA LYNN JOHNSON
For 21st Century Media
Someone stole the bells from Santa’s sleigh! It’s a good thing then that Mrs. Claus knows Murray the Elf. He’s a detective, and when something goes missing from the North Pole, she asks Murray to find it.
The past two years, he succeeded. Will he succeed this year? Act II Playhouse in Ambler thinks he will, with the audience’s help, of course.
From Dec. 20 through 26, “Murray the Elf and the Case of the Stolen Sleighbells” takes the stage to help celebrate the holiday season. The show, aimed at kids age 5 and older (and kids at heart, of all ages), is the third tale of this gumshoe elf. No knowledge of the previous mysteries – “Murray the Elf and the Case of the Terrifying Tinsel” and “Murray the Elf and the Case of the Missing Mistletoe” – are needed to enjoy this year’s tale, though.
Bill D’Agostino, of Bryn Mawr, has written all the Murray plays. This year’s version includes some characters from previous years, but there are new ones, too, including a snowman named Luke Cool.
D’Agostino, who also works as the theater’s communications and education director, came up with the title then had to fill in the story.
“I had to figure out why they were important, and why their theft would endanger Christmas,” he said. “Then I had to figure out who would steal them and why.”
It’s fun work especially when he thinks about who he’s writing for.
“Kids make the best audience. They laugh without abandon, get deeply invested in characters, and are actively involved in the show,” he said.
The show is aimed at children, but the adults who attend with them will have fun, too, he said. And even though people could watch TV or spend time with their electronic devices, D’Agostino hopes that people will enjoy the experience that only theater can provide.
“We spend so much of our modern lives behind screens,” he said. “Theater, by contrast, is live, unpredictable, and communal.”
As he has since the first adventure, Will Dennis plays Murray. Andy Shaw, who also has been in all three shows, plays everybody else. He likes playing so many different types of characters.
There’s a Swedish character called Klaus the Elf: “I think that Bill sits in front of his computer and tries to think of what accent he can make me do to look foolish at the first rehearsal,” Shaw said. “Hopefully, my Swedish will be both funny and understandable by the time performances roll around.”
One of his favorites is Candy Cane: “She always has her ear to the ground in the North Pole, so she has a lot of information for Murray,” he said. “But there’s also a goofy side to her that’s fun to play with.”
Another favorite is Humphrey the Penguin: “He’ll be back sneaking around with his trademark riddles and secret codes that always seem to baffle Murray, so the audience needs to be ready to help crack those codes,” Shaw said.
D’Agostino hopes that everyone will enjoy seeing the plays together, hopefully as much as he does writing them.
“I love creating a show that all ages can enjoy,” he said. “Especially around the holidays, I think it’s so important to all be together with family and friends and have a really good time.”
IF YOU GO
What: “Murray the Elf and the Case of the Stolen Sleighbells”
Where: Act II Playhouse, 56 E. Butler Ave., Ambler.
When: Dec. 20-26.
Tickets: $12; seniors $10; children $8.
Info.: Call (215) 654-0200 or visit www.act2.org.