Since the Christmas film "Elf" came out in 2003, Bryan Renaud has watched it again and again.
But the Sugar Grove native never imagined it would inspire him to create his biggest production to date: His musical parody, "Barney the Elf," is based on the popular Will Ferrell film, but it features a more adult theme.
"Barney" returns for its third year at the Greenhouse Musical Theater Center in Chicago. The campy musical comedy, which runs through Dec. 30, was written by Renaud, with lyrics by Renaud and Emily Schmidt. He starred as Barney in the 2016 production.
"Audiences will see throwbacks to the classic, but this definitely stands on its own," Renaud says of "Barney."
The show centers on an elf named Barney who is kicked out of the North Pole because of his sexual orientation. This leads him on a journey of self-discovery, taking him to one of Chicago's most popular drag bars. The music includes familiar songs, including some Broadway and pop hits, with rewritten lyrics to fit the plot.
The musical was first unveiled in 2015, after Renaud had been asked to write a play that mixed comedy and parody with social justice. Renaud, the associate artistic director of Other Theatre, also penned the "Stranger Things" parody "STRANGEST THINGS! The Musical," which had a sold-out run this year at Greenhouse.
For "Barney," Renaud leaned on parts of "Elf."
"It's so funny and heartwarming, and the messages are great," he says. "It has definitely cemented itself in the holiday part of our culture."
While his show has a more adult feel, it still retains that holiday cheer, he says.
Renaud can't help but watch "Elf" now from a playwright's mindset. "It's very easy to be like 'Oh, we didn't go into that montage at all, maybe we should try something like that this year,'" he says. "It's important to give the audiences a few new surprises each year."
Since "Barney the Elf" opened, it has undergone different directors and casts, and the transitions have been particularly rewarding for Renaud. Last year, the show also underwent major rewrites to fit current events and the election.
"Just to see the different voices and how it changes every year, that's the best gig ever as a writer," he says. "I've learned so much from all the people who come and go. There's a few of us who return every year, and it's become our holiday tradition."
He hopes his production sends guests a message of the importance of not judging others. "We tend to be afraid of people we don't understand," he says, "and we need to be open to understanding and listening to others who are different from us. I want people to leave feeling that love is love and that we can all learn from and listen to each other."
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"Barney the Elf"
Location: Greenhouse Musical Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, (773) 404-7336 or theothertheatrecompany.com
Showtimes: Previews 7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 19, and 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 26. Opens 8 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 28. Regular run begins Nov. 30 with performances at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. No performance Sunday, Dec. 24; runs through Saturday, Dec. 30.
Tickets: $20 for previews with the code "PREVIEW." Regular run $25; students $15.