The Jewish Connections to “The Elf on the Shelf” Musical

Sara Wordsworth

By Lee J. Green

The Elf on the Shelf went from the shelf to the stage, thanks in part to a couple of Jewish writers, who have tossed a little bit of Chanukah into “The Elf on the Shelf” musical coming to the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex for one night only, Nov. 21 at 6 p.m.

This family musical debuted in Easton, Pa., earlier in November and came to New Orleans on Nov. 19 on its 33-city tour. It is also in Mobile on Nov. 20 and Huntsville on Nov. 29.

Show composer Russ Kaplan and bookwriter/lyricist Sara Wordsworth both have Jewish fathers. “The Elf on the Shelf is a musical for the whole family,” said Wordsworth. “It’s a story about family, love and being together to share important holidays.”

She added, “in the musical, scout elves are sent to visit families to help them rediscover the holiday spirit. One of the elves is sent to a family who celebrates both Chanukah and Christmas.”

Wordsworth celebrated both holidays growing up outside of Atlantic City in southern New Jersey. Her mom was a choir and theatre director, so the family went into New York regularly to catch Broadway shows.

“I grew up around musical theatre and from an early age I knew I wanted to be involved in some way,” she said. “I acted, sang, played clarinet and piano. I just loved everything about the theatre.”

Wordsworth graduated with a degree in Theatre from Fordham University and got involved with a BMI Musical Theatre Writers Workshop. “That’s really where I discovered a love and a niche with musical theatre writing,” she said. “Now I am teacher there.”

After graduating, she also joined a semi-professional a cappella group. Her experiences inspired her to co-write and create a story about the group, which in 2016 debuted as Broadway’s first-ever a cappella musical – “In Transit.”

A family in Atlanta, who still owns the company, developed the Elf on the Shelf. When Wordsworth was contacted about doing the lyrics and bookwriting for the live stage show, she felt it was a perfect fit.

“I’ve written several shows for children,” including “Frozen Jr.” and “Frozen Kids” for Disney Theatrical/MTI, “and I have a six-year-old daughter. She is my assistant writer. I was inspired by her antics of my daughter and her friends,” she said.

Wordsworth took her daughter to see the tour’s opening show and “I think she recognizes there is a piece of our family in it. There is no better feeling to have your family and other families in the audience laughing and sharing together,” she said.

On Nov. 23, “The Elf on the Shelf” comes to Atlanta, and Wordsworth said she and her family would be there as part of the celebration, with the creators of the doll.

More than 10 years ago, a family in Cincinnati created the Mensch on the Bench as a Chanukah counterpart. Might there be a family musical someday based on that toy?

“If they contacted me, I would love to write it,” she said.