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Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012

Red Nosed for the Holidays

Rudolph Returns to First Stage

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The holidays are a great time to take children to the theater. The general wonder of the season can help children believe in almost anything (i.e., Santa Claus). The magic of Christmas is certainly alive in First Stage’s joyful production of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

This show is packed like a snowball with all the right stuff—puppet animals, moving fir trees, Santa, elves and a snowman narrator. Of course, there are plenty of reindeer, too. Rudolph is first introduced as a baby, displayed by his proud parents, Donner (Todd Denning) and Mrs. Donner (Malkia Stampley). The show’s message—that one’s differences can be an asset, not a liability—is front and center. Rudolph’s oddly shaped nose (yes, it lights up) causes the young buck to run away. Another “misfit,” an elf that yearns to become a dentist, accompanies him.

Sound familiar? This version of Rudolph is patterned after the animated 1964 TV special. The play’s live characters look and sound like those in the TV show. Even parents might channel their inner child as elves dance and a large snowman (Robert J. Spencer) sings some memorable tunes, such as “Holly Jolly Christmas.”

Darius Gaskin starred as Rudolph (wearing a life-size reindeer suit) in the production seen by this reviewer. He is part of the “gold” cast, one of two rotating casts of children. The double casting is a signature of First Stage productions. Gaskin is especially good as the love-smitten Rudolph who gets a shy kiss from the admiring Clarice (Allison Yurkowitz). The large cast also features nine adult actors, including Robert J. Spencer as the narrator, a snowman character originally voiced by Burl Ives. The versatile Drew Brhel appears as a number of characters, including the befuddled prospector, Yukon Cornelius. Lee Becker convincingly plays Santa, accompanied by a beaming Mrs. Claus (Karen Estrada), whose beautifully tailored dress is one of many show-stopping costumes.

The all-white set (consisting of arctic snow and glaciers) is filled with eye-popping activity from beginning to end.

First Stage Children’s Theater’s production of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer continues through Dec. 30 at the Marcus Center’s Todd Wehr Theater. For tickets, call 414-273-7206.
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