A snowstorm may have canceled press night for “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Musical” last Wednesday, but the blizzard of the century can’t cancel Christmas in the stage adaptation of the claymation family holiday favorite.
Fifty years since the classic Christmas story aired on television, California-based McCoy Rigby Entertainment is bringing Rudolph to life on stage in a nationwide tour that stopped at the Bushnell’s Mortensen Hall in Hartford over Thanksgiving weekend.
It turns out reindeer can fly in this production. Before the exclusive reindeer games, when the young bucks are learning to fly, cast members in white wintry outfits that blend in with the snow-covered forest set were poised to lift the actors into the air in choreographed flight. But it’s Rudolph (Lexy Baeza) who really flies, fastened to a black rope to swing our favorite red-nosed reindeer through the air at key moments, including curtain call. How fitting to see a girl playing a male character as the flying couldn’t help but make you think of Peter Pan, a role almost always played by a woman.
If you’re a fan of the movie, you’ll love the play because the adaptation by Bob Penola closely follows the storyline, only trimming up transitions to move the story along. It also cuts out Donner’s line from the movie,”No, this is man’s work,” when he refuses help from Mrs. Donner and Clarice to search for Rudolph. The line has long been omitted nowadays when showed on television because it comes off as a sexist remark in this day and age.
The stage version also has more frequent songs and closes with sing-alongs of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Holly Jolly Christmas” that had adults and kids alike in the audience belting out those holiday music favorites.
Even though it’s a live play with real people, the artistry of the stop animation from the 1964 TV film is not lost. The production has an animated look to it, from the cartoony wigs and beards designed by Anthony Gagliardi to the colorful outfits of Santa’s elves, Sam’s rolling snowman get-up and Lion King caliber reindeer costumes designed by Donna MacNaughton. Rudolph’s nose also actually glows red with the sound-effect similar to the movie.
Not to mentioned the literal animation and sing-along lyrics projected onto a scrim thanks to Jonathan Infante and the puppets. Ensemble members dressed in snow white wintry outfits bring the woodland creatures and misfit toys to life in numbers like “There’s Always Tomorrow” and “The Most Wonderful Day of the Year (The Island of Misfit Toys).”
The Abominable Snowman was no humble bumble, taking several people to maneuver the towering puppet on wheels and was a crowd favorite.
In a performance geared toward children, high energy is important to capture their attention. The cast from the enthusiastic elves to a thin, realist Santa to the prancing, dancing reindeer brought that to their performance.
Some of the actors picked up characteristics from the voices in the movie, particularly Dino Nicandros as the boss elf, Nick Waaland as Coach Comet and Yukon Cornelius and Wesley Edwards as Hermey, the elf who wants to be a dentist.
Jason M. Hammond played a sprightly Santa and he was well-paired with Abby Carlson as Mrs. Claus, persistently trying to fatten him up for Christmas.
The play is short and sweet, last just over an hour giving you just the right dose of holiday fun in a very busy season. It’s a cartoon on the stage if there ever was one.
Anyone who watches the Rudolph claymation movie every year will have their hearts warmed by this production. I’m glad I got to see it on its closing day Sunday before it left town.
For more information on upcoming productions at the Bushnell, go to www.bushnell.org.