The familiar clay animation version of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” is a timeless treat that has defied the technological advances that should have buried it decades ago. Instead, the old-style early television production keeps hitting the airwaves because it’s a perfect blend of everything that works. The production at Adventure Theatre is a faithful adaptation by Michael Bobbitt that maintains all the charming bits that have worked over the years and spruces up the pivotal moments.
As director, Bobbitt recognizes that the appeal of the 1964 television special is based on its clear and steadfast simplicity, and he keeps the basic flavor intact without antiquing it. The narrator (in the animated show voiced by the treasured tones of Burl Ives as a talking snowman) is played by showbiz veteran Russell Sunday, who even takes on the halting movements of the animated clay-fashioned figure. Bobbitt and choreographer Pauline S. Grossman creatively bring the show to life, literally, within a wholesome atmosphere of fun. For example, nothing beats the tap number between Santa and young Rudolph, extolling the joy of the season, so excited and full of promise before Rudolph’s special “asset” is discovered.
With Adventure Theatre’s superb casting is in characteristic full swing. Parker Drown portrays Rudolph with a playful and innocent charm and easy-to-root-for likeability. A certain doe likes him despite his glowing flair, and they become a duo. Sweetly played by Branda Lock, last seen in Adventure’s wildly popular If You Give a Pig a Pancake, she matches Rudolph’s innocent charm. Her character, Clarice, sees beneath the outward appearance and appreciates Rudolph’s tender core, a key affirmation for anyone who has tried to fit in.
The well known scripted verses take on new meaning when Rudolph’s potential on the playing field is scrapped and he is ejected and rejected for, well, you know what.
Costumer Kendra Rai’s creation of Rudolph’s head, with its large, meltingly beautiful eyes, adds to the dramatic effect. Not surprisingly his ejection from the group sent a pang of recognition through the crowd. Everyone knows what that feels like, and the hurt is as real as icicles on a wintry day.
Speaking of hurt and dejection, what’s the Rudolph story without his buddy Hermey, the rogue elf who yearns to be a dentist, nicely played by Mikey Cafarelli, the collection of misfit toys and the abominable snowman? The production has them in all their glory, unwanted dolls, poorly stuffed animals, even a Jack in the Box, who is misnamed Charles. And yes, the Abominable Snowman wreaks havoc for awhile with a scary roar and visage, again nice work by costumer Rai, before it settles into a friendly demeanor. Even the old prospector Yukon Cornelius played by Doug Wilder makes good use of center stage for some well-spent musical moments.
Bobbitt whirls all of the characters around as effectively as in a snow globe for a wondrous impact. Ayanna Hardy adds some top-notch vocals as Mrs. Clause and S. Lewis Feemster as Rudolph’s dad Donner knows his way around a lyric or two as well. The final moments of Santa and reindeer with Rudolph in the lead, depicted as puppets in the hands of the life size Santa, is enough to bust the charm meter, and the sing-along finale is the icing on top. With Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Adventure Theatre has assured a creative and imaginative adventure for the entire family yet again.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Adapted for the Stage by Michael J. Bobbitt
Directed by Michael J. Bobbitt
Produced by Adventure Theatre
Reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson