Chicago Theatre Review
Holiday Fun for Younger Audiences
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
There’s no lack of holiday entertainment in the Chicago area, but sometimes it’s difficult to find a show that will appeal to and hold the attention of younger viewers. Adapted practically word for word, song for song and character for character from the 1964 animated television special, this musical Christmas confection is the perfect holiday event for children, ages 3-10. First Stage Milwaukee’s Artistic Director Jeff Frank conceived the idea of adapting the stop-action animated holiday classic for the stage. Working closely with Robert Penola, they devised a script that recreated the cartoon’s magic, while still honoring Robert L. May’s original children’s story and Johnny Marks‘ well-known holiday song. Add to this Brandon Kirkham’s spot-on production design, which includes costumes, scenery and puppets, and you have a stage production that looks and sounds as if the animated TV special has actually come to life.
While this production is splendidly eye-catching and replicates the exact look and feel of the cartoon classic, there’s often problems with the show’s pacing. Most of this is due to the prerecorded musical track that slows down the action. As the show’s narrator, Sam the Snowman looks and sounds exactly like the cartoon character who was voiced by Burl Ives. The problem is his delivery is far too laid back for live theatre, especially for an emcee whose job it is to kick-start the proceedings. As Sam, poor Sean Patrick Fawcett is severely encumbered by a giant snowman costume that allows him to barely hobble around the stage in tiny steps. His inability to move any faster, coupled with being directed to imitate Ives’ relaxed Southern style sets a very slow rhythm.
Except for Tyrone Phillips’ enervated Donner, Rudolph’s dad, the reindeer inject more life into the story. Armando Carlo (who shares the title role with Cody J. Bolithon) brings energy and an earnest drive to Rudolph, and Isabelle Roberts (sharing her role with Avery Moss) is delightfully sweet as Clarice, Rudolph’s first love. Other standouts include Michael Accardo as both Yukon Cornelius and reindeer Coach Comet, the always delightful Lillian Castillo and Robb Alton as the Claus couple and the ensemble who play all the assorted Misfit Toys. But the show’s finest performance comes from young Liam Dahlborn, a tiny sixth-grader who plays Hermey the Elf. (He shares the role with Michael Saguto at alternate performances.) This little guy has the power and personality of a young Martin Short and makes the entire show.
The production includes musical favorites like “Holly Jolly Christmas,” “Jingle, Jingle, Jingle” and the title song, which becomes an audience sing-along. Add to this Ernie Nolan’s simple, but effective choreography and some extra special effects that literally lift Rudolph into the sky, and young children will be thrilled seeing one of their favorite holiday cartoons spring to life.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented by Emerald City Theatre and First Stage Milwaukee for Broadway in Chicago at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, Chicago.
Tickets are available at Ticketmaster locations, by calling the Broadway in Chicago Ticket Line at 800-775-2000 or by visiting www.BroadwayinChicago.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found at www.theatreinchicago.com.