Chicago Theatre Review
You Would Even Say It Glows!
Rudolph, the Red-Hosed Reindeer – Hell In a Handbag
It’s difficult to believe but very exciting that David Cerda’s popular, gender-bending Christmas entertainment is now in its 17th year. With new cast members, some additional music and a wealth of contemporary references this updated parody of the popular annual television cartoon is a big, glitzy, over-the-top extravaganza of holiday fun. Mr. Cerda’s musical comedy also carries the message that being different isn’t a crime. Just like the original storybook published in 1939 by Montgomery Ward, as well as the hit song recorded by Gene Autry ten years later, or the stop motion animated television special, now commemorating its 50th anniversary, the story of Rudolph is a story that celebrates the differences in each of us.
The musical features the same basic plot as the cartoon that it’s parodying. Sam, an African-American Snowman narrates his recollection about Rudolph, a newborn reindeer at the North Pole, who embarrasses his parents with his preference for feminine clothing and girly interests. When he’s shunned by the other reindeer for being different Rudolph decides to run away. He’s joined by another former North Pole citizen, an optimistic elf and kindred spirit named Herbie, who would rather become a dentist than be one of Santa’s toymakers. The two outcasts soon make friends with another fish out of water, a lesbian prospector named Yukon Cornelia. Together they all sail to the Isle of Misfit Toys where they take on the fearsome, giant Abominable Drag Beast. Of course, everything turns out happily in the end and everyone becomes accepted for who they are and the talents they possess.
In addition to creating the tasty script this outrageous musical, featuring such inspirational and humorous songs as “Being Normal,” “They’ll Hate You if You’re Different,” “Christmas Makes Me Bitter” and “Just Be Yourself,” was the brain child of Artistic Director, David Cerda. Brian McKnight directs this year’s production with an eye for the outlandish. It also sports musical direction by Kailey Rockwell and choreography by Steve Love. The production’s enhanced by Kate Setzer Kamphausen’s costumes, wigs by Jacob Green, puppets designed by Lolly Extract and Amber Marsh and a colorful, compact set by Zachary Gipson.
Grant Drager heads this year’s cast as the handsome, hunky and lovable young cross-dressing buck named Rudolph. Particular standouts in this year’s cast include an excellent actor known only as Chad, who brings dignity and humor to the role of Herbie, the Elf. Also noteworthy are Caitlin Jackson, as Rudolph’s mother, but particularly as baby doll belter, Dolly; Ed Jones as a sad, alcoholic, Charlotte Rae-like Ruth Claus; Lizzie Schwarzrock as Rudolph’s nubile reindeer girlfriend, Clarice; Bobby Arnold as Coach Comet but, especially as the outrageous Queen Moon Racer; and Michael J. Hampton as a smarmy, hot-to-trot Santa.
For audiences looking for the most irreverent holiday entertainment in town, featuring a solid, positive message about being accepted for who you are, this is the show to see. A popular Andersonville hit for almost two decades, David Cerda’s campy, highly theatrical parody of that eccentric reindeer with the shiny nose is back again and shining once more just as brightly as ever.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented December 5-January 2 by Hell in a Handbag Productions at Mary’s Attic, 5400 N. Clark St., Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling 800-838-3006 or by going to www.brownpapertickets.com.