“The Elephant Speaks Jazz,” a brand-new production to debut April 1

Mitchell Shaw, Campus Life Editor

April 1, the La Crosse community will have a ‘magical’ opportunity to witness the debut of “The Elephant Speaks Jazz,” a brand-new production written by Eric Van Wyk, directed by Alex Mallory, and composed by Luke Thering. This never-before-seen experience incorporates elements of theatrical spectacle, musicality, and humor, sculpted by Viterbo students, to send audiences back to a child-like state of whimsy.  


“The Elephant Speaks Jazz,” will play April 1 to 10 at the Weber Center for the Performing Arts. The show features life-sized puppets and an original score “that will wow audiences of all ages.” Van Wyk’s story “follows sister and brother team–Lucy and Sam. When ordered to go outside and play they stumble upon an unlikely new friend, Ellie the elephant. Little do they know the wild ride Ellie will take them on across town, in a lake, and back to her circus home where they discover her hidden talent.” 


The true magic of this show stems from its team of collaborators. From day one, director, writer, and cast were putting their heads together and letting their creativity run wild. “It has been a lot of fun,” said Aren Alexander-Battee, who plays Sam. “A lot of the first, initial, process with this show was going through it almost as improv scenes, coming up with our own lines. And once we got a script, we were still able to offer, ‘can I throw this line in?’ And just follow impulses to see where they go.” 


Bri Reilly, who plays Lucy, also commented on this rehearsal style which she credits to helping her sculpt this original character. “I play Lucy, she is a fourth grader, so she’s a lot of fun to play,” Reilly said. “The first week we did a lot of world-building. I was just in my character, having fun, and discovering my inner child, it was a blast!” 


The biggest spectacle, without debate, is Ellie. A life-sized elephant puppet, operated by three cast members who alternate throughout the show. Because of her team, Ellie moves freely about the stage to express herself and play her music. “We are comfortable with it now, stated Spencer Curtis, who plays Dad, operates Ellie’s head in most scenes, “but we used to have to call out each individual step, ‘turn left, turn right, rotate.’ But now we have come to a point where we can read each other, we don’t need communicate verbally, we can just move seamlessly as one puppet, which is pretty cool given where we started.” 


Currently in tech week for their show, Viterbo students cannot wait to welcome audience members into the magical, jazz-filled, world of “The Elephant Speaks Jazz.” “I have never seen a puppet show like this,” stated Curtis, “I think it will be exciting for people to see what a puppet show can mean to them; it is so much more than people can expect and is so much more colorful than you can describe in words. I am just excited for people to finally see it with their own eyes.”