Royal Oak Tribune
TWO LOCAL PRODUCTIONS, SAME HOLIDAY MAGIC
Four tours in, ‘Elf’ is still fresh for Troy-born actress
Growing up in Troy, Caitlin Lester-Sams attended plenty of shows at the Fox Theatre. But this week marks the first time she’ll be on stage herself.
The actress will be playing Emily Hobbs in “Elf The Musical,” the stage adaptation of the hit 2003 holiday film that starred Will Ferrell as Buddy Hobbs, a human raised by elves who returns to rescue his father from Santa Claus’ Naughty list. Lester-Sams’ character, played by Mary Steehburgen in the movie, is Buddy’s understanding stepmother who also has a child of her own named Michael.
“She’s kind of a sophisticated New York working woman, and I think she has a great sense of humor,” says Lester-Sams, who’s on her fourth tour with “Elf” and her second of playing Emily. “I think she has a great sense of humor. She’s got these two really terrific songs (‘I’ll Believe in You,’ ‘There is a Santa Claus’).
“I like Michael and Emily as characters because they really kind of drive the heart of the show. They’re the first ones to come around to Buddy’s magic and be affected by his very genuine holiday spirit. I like that we get to lean into that.”
Lester-Sams considers it a gift to be able to bring that magic to audiences, too.
A dancer and singer from a young age — including at St. Stephens Episcopal Church, where her father was a rector for many years — Lester-Sams got serious about theater while at Troy Athens High School. “I did every show that I could and really locked in my love of theater,” she says. “I’ve always had just an innate love of music, and I think what I love the most about theater is that it combines so many elements.” She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts 15 years ago at Western Michigan University and then moved to New York, where she worked day jobs — she still has a spot as a server and bartender at Alfie’s, a restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen — while learning the ropes of the auditioning network.
Over time she’s amassed a resume that includes national tours of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” which also played in Detroit, and “Flashdance” and regional productions of “Footloose,” “Brigadoon,” “Title of Show,” “Legally Blonde,” “Escape to Margaritaville” and more. She was familiar with the “Elf” movie before she joined the touring company, but not the musical — which, on her fourth run, she knows like the proverbial back of her hand.
“What I love about touring a big show like (‘Elf’) in particular,” LesterSams says, “is not just that I get to do the things I like, which are singing, dancing and acting, but there are so many skills that come together to put up a show like this — all the people doing the lights and sound and set and costumes.
“There’s just so much work that goes into it, and I love when you put together a musical and all those things have to come together to make it a great show that the audience loves.”
Lester-Sams hasn’t lost her enthusiasm for “Elf” or theater in general, either. She has goals, including a Broadway show someday, but as a veteran in the field she’s keenly aware of what keeps it exciting for her.
“The biggest learning curve is just figuring out how to be content with your work-life balance — finding ways to stay connected in your career and driving and focused on things you want to achieve and at the same time not being ruled by your career,” Lester-Sams explains. “It’s about figuring out how to create a life you love to live that’s sustainable.
“I think I’ve done pretty well so far. I’m still in the industry because I love it. It still brings me a lot of joy all these years later. I’ve never found anything I could be as dedicated to as this career.”
“Elf The Musical” runs for eight performances Tuesday through Sunday, Nov. 22-27 at the Fox Theatre, 2211 Woodward Ave., Detroit. $40 and up. 313-471-7000 or 313Presents.com.