Centralia native wrote lyrics for 'Elf The Musical"

For the News-DemocratDecember 11, 2013 

Tony-nominated lyricist Chad Beguelin, a Centralia native, grew up going to the Fox Theatre, so having "Elf The Musical" play there for the holidays is a special feeling.

"One of the highlights of my childhood was when my parents would take me to the Fox to see musicals. I never thought in a million years that my shows would be playing there. It's incredibly surreal," he said.

Beguelin wrote the lyrics and his longtime writing partner Matthew Sklar wrote the music; the book is adapted by Bob Martin and Thomas Meehan from the 2003 movie. It played on Broadway during the holiday season of 2010-11 and 2012-13, and is now on national tour.

"Elf The Musical" is the story of Buddy, an orphan child who crawls in Santa's sack and is accidentally taken to the North Pole, where he grows up thinking he's an elf. When he learns he isn't, he sets off for New York City to find his birth father. During his journey, New Yorkers find the true meaning of Christmas. The show will open Dec. 17 and runs through Dec. 29 (no performances Dec. 24-25) at the Fox.

Unfortunately, Beguelin might not make it home to see the show with family and friends, like he did when "The Wedding Singer" tour played there several years ago. But he has a good reason -- he's busy in Toronto perfecting "Aladdin," the Disney musical he wrote new lyrics for, as well as the script with composer Alan Menken, which is set to make its Broadway debut on March 20, 2014. The show previewed at the Muny in 2012.

After graduating from Centralia High School with hopes of being an actor, Beguelin attended Indiana University. He left to pursue studies at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, where he concentrated on playwriting and songwriting. Now a New Yorker, he is grateful for his Midwest roots.

"I've been so blessed to come from Southern Illinois. Those small town values help me keep my head on straight in this crazy business. And the support I have from my family, friends and teachers is always with me. Show business is an incredibly tough career to choose -- but knowing that my home town is behind me really helps when things get crazy," he said.

Beguelin was twice-nominated for Tony Awards as the lyricist and book writer for the musical adaptation of the 1998 Adam Sandler comedy "The Wedding Singer," which debuted on Broadway in 2006, and garnered a nomination as Best Musical. After that, he turned his attention to another popular movie comedy, with a different "Saturday Night Live" alumnus, comedian Will Ferrell.

The "Elf" story appealed to Beguelin. "It's so rare that a comedy has such heart," he said. "It's truly a new holiday classic and I loved the idea that it's message is all about the importance of family."

When he's adapting material into a musical, he has a set of priorities.

"Whenever I write lyrics, I'm always hoping to either reveal character or move the story forward. In the best case scenario, both! Most songs are like inner monologues for characters, so it's a great opportunity to have the audience really relate to the characters," he said.

Beguelin and Sklar have been a writing team for more than 20 years. What is special about their working relationship?

"We've really grown up together. We've been through all the good and the bad that show business has to offer. I think it's given us a shorthand when we write songs, not to mention a great deal of trust," he said. "We're like an old married couple who've been through a lot of therapy. We rarely fight, we always talk out our feelings and fears. And we always have one another's back. Of course, it doesn't hurt that I'm constantly in awe of his talent. His tunes are truly for the ages."

Now that "Aladdin" is about to open, that makes his third show on Broadway, but he has worked on it for several years, revising and trying out. "I love 'Aladdin' -- it's my favorite Disney animated feature. It was great to see it at the Muny, sharing that experience with my family and friends was incredibly special," he said.

"The biggest thing we learned from our out-of-town tryouts is that if people like the character of 'Aladdin' and are on his side, the show can go anywhere. Aside from fine-tuning the humor, my biggest job has been to strengthen his journey. He has to learn at the end that his 'true worth lies within,'" he said.

Beguelin was hired to work with the Disney movie composer Alan Menken, one of his early influences, and that was an incredible experience, he said.

"Alan Menken and Howard Ashman wrote a bunch of songs for the film that ended up being cut. I was asked to find a way to get those songs back into the stage version. When I was a kid, my dad took me to New York City with him. We saw Menken and Ashman's 'Little Shop of Horrors.' The lyrics blew my mind and I knew at that moment I wanted to be a lyricist. So to have the honor of introducing lost Menken / Ashman songs to a new generation is beyond amazing," he said.

"Elf the Musical"

Where: Fox Theatre, 527 N. Grand Blvd., St. Louis

When: Dec. 17-29 (No shows Dec. 24-25; special matinees)

Information and tickets: www.fabulousfox.com or call 314-534-1111

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