STORY WRITTEN BY TARA LYNN JOHNSON
For Digital First Media
Something’s happening at the North Pole. Every year around this time, for four years now, an elf detective is called in to save Christmas. He needs kids’ help to do it, too. So Ambler’s Act II Playhouse hopes they’ll come with their grownups to “Murray the Elf and the Case of the Gruesome Gumdrop,” the theater’s family holiday show.
The one-hour play, recommended for children ages 5 and older, was written by Act II Communication and Education Director Bill D’Agostino and stars Will Dennis as Murray and Andy Shaw as all of the other characters. D’Agostino wrote the previous three as well, but no knowledge of the others is necessary to enjoy this year’s version.
“Murray” is a mystery and a comedy about a gumdrop ghost threatening Christmas. Mrs. Claus calls upon Murray the Elf to save the day again, and with the audience’s help, he just might!
Since this is the fourth “Murray” story, D’Agostino said in a telephone interview that it can be challenging to write a new play each year, but “there’s plenty of Christmas stuff to riff on.” Each year, the show includes nods to pop culture, too.
D’Agostino’s excited that Dennis will play Murray again.
“He’s so great with the kids,” he said. “He’s quick on his feet.”
Dennis loves the job and that the kids help to solve the mystery.
“Murray’s an empathetic, sensitive and earnest elf detective. It’s like having an old friend come back for the holidays,” he said in a telephone interview. “And there’s such a sense of joy and wonder and innocence with an audience of children. It’s delightful.”
He applauds D’Agostino’s writing and Shaw’s multi-character performance, saying, “I have the easiest job by far.”
One of the best parts of the whole thing: adults can enjoy the show, too.
“We’re entertained by it,” he said. “And that’s because of Bill’s script.”
Playing Murray is becoming a holiday tradition for the actor, and seeing the show is becoming one for his family.
“They pick a day and the entire family comes — my aunt, cousins and their kids, my siblings and my nieces, extended family. It’s what we do for Christmas now that families have grown, so we’re not all gathering on the holiday. This has given it back to us,” he said. “It’s becoming a permanent part of my life in the best of ways.”
It also keeps him younger, he said.
“It allows me to geek out over children’s theater and to let down my guard even a bit more in a way. Sometimes that’s the hardest thing about acting,” he said.
D’Agostino hopes more families will make “Murray” a tradition, too.
“It’s so awesome that they have welcomed us into their Christmas festivities,” he said. “That’s so cool and such an honor for us. We don’t take that lightly.”
And Dennis looks forward to making an impact, on stage and off as well.
“I get to say goodbye to the kids on the way out,” he said. “This is beyond theater. This is bigger. This is Christmas.”