Dancing to the North Pole
Out performer Christopher Tipps gets in shape for Elf —The Musical.
He sings! He dances! He tumbles! They call him Mistah Tipps!
I will explain in a minute, but first the news: out Houstonian Christopher Tipps will perform December 7–22 in an all-new production of Elf—The Musical at Theatre Under The Stars (TUTS).
“I am one of the dancers, and I imagine they will have me tumbling quite a bit,” the buff actor told OutSmart the day before rehearsals started November 15. “It’s going to be amazing. In every show you become a family, but even more so when it’s a holiday production. Some of us will have Thanksgiving dinner together. Everybody will exchange Secret Santa gifts.”
The present that Tipps gives himself is “grace,” he says. “I think it is important to be kind to myself. Especially in the last 365 days, I have told myself it’s okay not to be perfect. It is enough to be myself, without blinking twice. I want everyone to take the time to compliment themselves and give themselves the attention they deserve.”
Elf—The Musical is based on the cherished 2003 movie Elf, which starred Will Ferrell as Buddy, who was abandoned as a baby at the North Pole and raised with elves as his siblings. Once Buddy finds out that his birth father lives in New York City, he travels there to discover his true identity. In the process, he helps residents of the Big Apple rediscover the true meaning of Christmas.
“I don’t think there is a better modern show for the holidays than Elf,” says TUTS artistic director Dan Knechtges, who is directing and choreographing the show that debuted on Broadway in 2010. “With its bubbly, infectious score, it’s guaranteed to get you into the holiday spirit.”
So, what’s the deal with Mistah Tipps? Well, back in the Post-Pleistocene era, a movie called In the Heat of the Night won the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1967. The plot landed Sidney Poitier as Virgil Tibbs, a black police detective from Philadelphia, in a small Southern town where it was assumed that he robbed and killed a white man. When Rod Steiger (as the racist police chief) kept disrespecting Tibbs by calling him by his first name, the proud black detective turned and said, “They call me Mister Tibbs!”
Tipps hasn’t seen the movie, but he adopted the Instagram handle @Mistah_Tipps after a British thespian started calling him “Mistah Tipps,” complete with the non-rhotic pronunciation and spelling.
Tipps grew up in Channelview. Although he was home-schooled, from ages 15 to 17 Tipps took classes in dance, voice, and acting at TUTS’ Humphreys School of Musical Theatre in Houston.
Next, he studied dance and kinesiology at Houston Community College, but “took a small break and went into sales, thinking that’s what being an adult was, seeking financial stability.”
One day Tipps realized, “I am way off my path,” so he quit his retail job, left Houston, and, like Buddy the Elf, headed to New York City. “Things happened lightning-fast,” he says. “I was only in New York City for six months when I got two contracts that took me out of the city.” The first took him to Vero Beach, Florida, for a six-week production of Hello, Dolly! while the second sent him to the Caribbean for 11 months aboard the mammoth Allure of the Seas.
Tipps portrayed Eddie in the cruise ship’s presentation of Mamma Mia!, so the show was fresh in his mind when he returned to Houston and landed the role of Pepper in last spring’s production at TUTS. “It was really cool to change roles, because Eddie and Pepper are partners in crime. Eddie is the more responsible one, while Pepper is a ‘rock star.’ Still to this day, people stop me and say they remember me playing Pepper.”
Tipps also performed in The Wiz and Jerome Robbins’ Broadway at TUTS, and he’s played Seaweed J. Stubbs in the musical Hairspray at Miller Outdoor Theatre.
Tipps recently took a break from teaching at several 24 Hour Fitness locations, but he plans to swell up some more before returning to New York City in February, complete with
“a Broadway body.”
“I have always been slim and some people say I had a six-pack, but not really because it would come and go,” he admits. “There is a running joke in New York about getting ‘the Broadway body’ with the big chest, a defined stomach, and strong legs, but I am a lot more defined and muscular now because I have been giving myself grace. I’m eating clean and treating myself well. I’m getting all my eggs in the same nest, and I will be ready to hit the ground running.”
What: Elf—The Musical at TUTS
When: Dec. 7–22; [email protected] Night: Thursday, Dec. 19
Where: Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby St.
This article appears in the December 2019 edition of OutSmart magazine.