The two major family holiday shows this season are Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas at Children’s Theatre Company and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer at Stages theatre Company. Both come from animated Christmas specials that I grew up watching every year during their annual broadcasts in December. Like CTC’s production of Grinch, Stages goes all out to recreate the look and feel of the original animated classic. It’s an impressive show filled with ingenious ways to recreate all your favorite moments from childhood viewings. A very faithful adaptation that adds nothing plot wise but does fill the show out with a little more musical segments, all are welcome additions. It’s the perfect show for families to get them in the Christmas spirit and create that sense of magical wonder in the wee ones.
The script was adapted from the story by Robert L. May and the song by Johnny Marks by Robert Penola with arrangements by Timothy Splain and orchestrations by William C. White. The story is told by Sam the Snowman as he recalls the year they almost cancelled Christmas due to the worst winter storm they’d ever seen. We see Santa’s first meeting with Rudolph, his meet cute with Clarice, and his exclusion from reindeer games. We meet Hermey, the elf who dreams of being a real Dentist and teams up with fellow misfit Rudolph to try and find a place where they will fit in. Along the way they hook up with silver and gold prospector Yukon Cornelius. Yukon Cornelius helps them to escape from the Abominable Snow Monster or Bumble as Yukon calls him. Adrift on an ice raft they come ashore on the island of misfit toys, which are toys that nobody wants like a train with square wheels and a Charlie-in-the-Box. Rudolph and his friends are asked to speak to Santa when they go back to Christmas Town about finding children for the misfit toys. Worried that his nose endangers his friends, Rudolph sneaks off in the night, when he discovers that his parents and Clarice have left to search for him he goes looking for them and finds them in the lair of the Abominable Snow Monster! Rudolph will need the help of his friends to safe his loved ones, but at what cost will the rescue come? You’ll have to see the show to find out.
The cast does a fine job of embodying these well known characters making an effort to sound like the original voices as much as possible. Standouts in the cast include Stages veteran Bruce Rowan who guides us through the story as Sam the Snowman much as Burl Ives did in the original. Todd Bruse as Coach Comet & Yukon Cornelius, he manages to make Comets snubbing of Rudolph after his red nose is discovered not quite as harsh as it comes off in the original, which is a well made change. Athan Fischer as Rudolph cannot emulate the voice we are used to and that’s okay but a misstep in direction is taken when the puppet used in the first scene of a baby Rudolph, does speak with that voice. It would have been better to use Fischer’s voice consistently. Matt Ouren is quite good as Hermey the elf that is just a little bit different than the other elves, at least in his career aspirations.
The true star of the show though is the look and aesthetic of the production. Everything from the Set Design by Gretchen Katt to the Lighting Design by Karin Olson goes towards creating the world of Rankin and Bass’s classic stop motion animated special. Going into Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, I wondered how they are going to pull off certain scenes or if they would need to be changed. Stages approached this with a can do attitude and I can’t think of a thing they changed. We have flying reindeers, a giant bumble, and even several Christmas tree forest animals. Which brings us to Costumes & Make-up Designer Samantha Fromm Haddow, based off the original designs done by Christina A. Richardson, who has made every character on stage look like the original versions, it was like seeing these characters come to life. The forest creatures and misfit toys also look like the originals and are brought to life very effectively by puppeteers much the same way as Olaf in the stage version of Frozen. All of the stage magic employed really contributes to creating what is simply a wondrous musical experience.
Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer is highly recommended for a family holiday outing it’s a great alternative to The Guthrie Theaters A Christmas Carol for those with kids under ten, for whom that show might be to frightening. It’s also a great alternative to CTC Grinch for families on a budget as tickets are about half the price, and both shows will delight their target age groups. The production runs through December 27th for more information and to purchase tickets go to https://www.stagestheatre.org/rudolph/
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