Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, The Musical, At Milwaukee’s First Stage!

For a family with youngsters, I can’t imagine a better way to start the holiday season, than by attending First Stage’s magical presentation of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the Musical. The play itself is an adaptation of the animated television special of the same name. This version was conceived and directed by Jeff Frank and First Stage and the script adaptation was done by Robert Penola.

It certainly can’t be easy bringing an animated feature to the live stage but it certainly didn’t seem like that on the Todd Wehr stage. An immaculate stage dressed out in white and ice blue provides a spacious North Pole vista for the action and the singing and the dancing. Clever movable ice bergs and ice floes give us a chance to move across the tundra and get a sense of a different space. So thank you scenic designer, Brandon Kirkham!

 Emily Honigman, Karen Estrada, Ashley Oviedo, Tommy Novak (as Sam the Snowman) and cast in RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER™: THE MUSICAL. First Stage, 2022. Photo by Paul Ruffolo.

But on to the characters. Our first and constant companion is Sam the Snowman, impeccably played by Tommy Novak, who moves around in that giant costume effortlessly. Sam is our MC for the day and also provides the lead for a number of the musical numbers. They certainly provided continuity and stability to the story…and it felt like Mr. Novak brought their best Burl Ives into play here!

And the other main characters include David Flores as Santa, Karen Estrada as Mrs. Claus, Rick Pendzich as Yukon Cornelius, J. T. Backes as Boss Elf, James Carrington as Donner, Ashley Oviedo as Mrs. Donner, and TIm Linn as Bumble and Moonracer. One incredible cast. Between having to change mood and situation and sing in elaborate costume, they pulled the magic out of the story and brought it clearly to the stage.

 Lucia Harris and cast in RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER™: THE MUSICAL. First Stage, 2022. Photo by Paul Ruffolo.

Of course, the star of the show is Rudolph! And as with all of their other presentations, First Stage has two separate casts for their young performers. At the late afternoon Sunday matinee that I attended, I saw the Silver Cast and Liam Eddy was playing Rudolph. For those of you who don’t know the story yet, there seems to be some trepidation about Rudolph’s nose…you could even say it glows. So we see attempts to hide his red nose, to make fun of his red nose, ostracize the very cute (she said he was cute) reindeer, and then of course to finally celebrate him as a hero!!! The role has been very carefully developed and presented here and you will understand and feel a variety of emotions as Rudolph grows and develops.

Layton Lal, Liam Eddy, and Rick Pendzich in RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER™: THE MUSICAL. First Stage, 2022. Photo by Paul Ruffolo.

AND there are puppets! What a wonderful addition to the ensemble and story…we have owls and squirrels and seals…AND THE BUMBLE. And the Bumble appears in a number of sizes and attributes depending on his relationship to the main characters on stage and his place in the story. But this costume and Tim Linn’s facility in moving around stage in it, is just completely entrancing. And it is interesting to watch the transition of the character from menacing monster to friendly neighbor at the close of the play. So thanks again to Brandon Kirkham who also designed the puppets and costumes. And bravo to the various actors who voiced and moved the puppets through out the action.

Now my favorite part of the play? Well this might be a little bit of a surprise, but it was the Elf ensemble! They were clad in some very bright and lively elf costumes and it was just a joy to watch them build toys, read toy request letters, load the sleigh, and perform in a number of song and dance numbers through out. Just simple and pure fun! Wow!!

Ashley Oviedo (lower left), Tommy Novak (as Sam the Snowman), Lauren DeGroot, Lucia Harris (as Rudolph) and James Carrington (center) and cast in RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER™: THE MUSICAL. First Stage, 2022. Photo by Paul Ruffolo.

I am sure that I left some fun stuff out. For those of us young enough that we don’t yet know the whole story, there will be just enough drama here as Rudolph makes his way through his story. The costumes, the lighting, the music, the dance numbers will enthrall. We will learn that reindeer really know how to fly and how they learn. For those of us with a little more experience with the story, we will learn how something done simply in animation is interpreted on the stage with live actors. That anticipation is a lot of fun as well!!

And there is the finale and grand finale as the cast sings, what else, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer! You may feel the urge to sing along.

If you plan on going, Rudolph runs through December 24, 2022 at the Todd Wehr Theater in the Marcus Performing Arts Center. It is recommended for people 4 years and older! The play runs 70 minutes plus a short intermission. You can order tickets at the link below but do not wait another moment if you intend to go. At the matinee performance I attended I didn’t see more than a few empty seats in the main floor…so this is a very popular event.

Ticket information here!!

Extra credit reading: The playbill here!

Karen Estrada and David Flores in RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER™: THE MUSICAL. First Stage, 2022. Photo by Paul Ruffolo.

PSA: First Stage Celebrates The Holidays with Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer: The Musical!

Milwaukee, WI – November 9, 2022 – Come celebrate the holidays this year with First Stage and the return of their heartwarming production of RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER™: THE MUSICAL!, based on the 1964 television special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and stage production directed and conceived by Jeff Frank and First Stage. The live, musical version of RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER™ will be directed by Artistic Director Jeff Frank and features all the colorful characters audiences know and love, a thrilling adventure story combined with an unforgettable holiday musical score by Johnny Marks, including the catchy “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” theme song. From fleeing the Abominable Snow Monster to saving Christmas, join Rudolph and his friends, Hermey the Elf and Yukon Cornelius, as their adventures remind us that what makes us different can also be what makes us special. Don’t miss this wonderful holiday tradition that speaks to the little misfit in all of us!

From Artistic Director/Director Jeff Frank: “What fun to return to Christmastown and visit Rudolph and friends once again! Who knew when we launched the premiere production in 2012 that it would serve as the model for subsequent productions – including a national tour! This joyful holiday tale will once again come to life at the Todd Wehr Theater courtesy of some clever staging, the remarkable design work of Brandon Kirkham, and our incredible production department who crafted this piece with such care and detail. Rudolph, Hermey and the Toys remind us all that there is a place for everyone. There really is no such thing as a misfit – just a world that needs to learn to welcome people as they are. No one should have to worry about covering up who they are to seek acceptance. We need to make the effort to move beyond first impressions to take the time to really listen to one another and find a deeper understanding of folks. After all – it turns out that even the Bumble is misunderstood. From the incredible music of Johnny Marks to the adventures with the Bumble, to the lovable inhabitants of the Island of Misfit Toys, to the hilarious antics of Yukon Cornelius, to the heartwarming storytelling of Sam the Snowman – RUDOLPH has something for the entire family to celebrate this holiday season. Come home for the holidays together at First Stage.” 

And if you ever saw it, you would even say it glows! The beloved TV classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer soars off the screen and returns to our stage this holiday season. From fleeing the Abominable Snow Monster to saving Christmas, join Rudolph and his friends, Hermey the Elf and Yukon Cornelius, as their adventures teach us that what makes you different can be what makes you special. Don’t miss this wonderful holiday tradition that speaks to the little misfit in all of us. Performance runtime is approximately 70 minutes, which includes a brief intermission. Suggested for families with young people ages 4+. 

Tickets start at $32 – Tickets may be purchased at or through the Marcus Center Box Office, in person at 929 N. Water Street in downtown Milwaukee or by phone (414) 273-7206 or toll free at (888) 612-3500. The number for TDD (for deaf and hard of hearing patrons) is (414) 273-3080. 

First Stage World Premiere: Arthur And Friends Make A Musical!

I am at a disadvantage right away because I am not familiar with the Arthur character or his story line…but I am just going to go ahead and describe what I experienced at First Stage’s World Premiere performance of Arthur and Friends Make A Musical at the Marcus Center’s Todd Wehr Theater. So if I write something that makes you go, DUH! Well just say DUH and give me the benefit of the doubt!

As many of you know, First Stage always uses two casts during the run of their plays. So you may see either the Lakewood or the Elwood cast when you attend. The photos that I have included here were provided by First Stage and are from scenes with either cast.

So initially, we meet Arthur and his sister D.W.. They set up the theme for the action to follow and introduce us to the sibling dynamic: a rather cautious and reserved Arthur and a very competitive and self-aware D.W. But as we soon find out, Arthur is about to be thrown into the spotlight and we are all going to enjoy it.

Sanaiah Hibbler (center) and Niamh Mayne, Lucia Santana, Brandite Reed, Zach Thomas Woods, Jaloni Brown, and Alex Radtke (from left to right) in ARTHUR™ & FRIENDS MAKE A MUSICAL! First Stage, 2022. Photo by Paul Ruffolo.

And there are two dynamic groups at work! Arthur’s family; mom and dad and D.W. of course, who are all represented in the play and baby Kate and dog Pal. Kate and Pal are referred to several times throughout but never appear on stage…and Pal becomes something of a focus in our story!

And the other group is of course Arthur’s Third Grade Class led by Mr. Ratburn and includes four other students who all seem to like Arthur and rally round him! But of course the students represent typical third graders…although maybe a bit precocious. One young lady is socially conscious, another enamored of fashion and style, and of course we have the class brain!

Charlie Cornell, Silver Anderson, Vivian Madson, Ryon Davis, and Alice Rivera in ARTHUR™ & FRIENDS MAKE A MUSICAL! First Stage, 2022. Photo by Paul Ruffolo.

One of the things that seemed to be of particular interest to the children in the audience and actually left them in awe a bit, was the set. Because we essentially have just two locations, a clever turntable spins center stage to provide the backdrop and setting for either the classroom or the family kitchen. I heard more than a few wows or questions about how do they do that, as the stage rotated several times as the story progressed. And actually, I kinda wonder, how DO they do that?

 Sanaiah Hibbler in ARTHUR™ & FRIENDS MAKE A MUSICAL! First Stage, 2022. Photo by Paul Ruffolo.

But, now, on to the story! Mr. Ratburn sets up the ‘conflict’ of the story when he announces that the class will present a show for the entire town of Elwood. Each student is to prepare a speech or song or story to explain how Elwood ROCKS! And of course this causes Arthur to worry and overthink the assignment. And with song, dance, and dialogue we watch Arthur work through his thought process and interact with this fellow students and family..and he watches how they handle the task and support his efforts. And everyone supports Arthur’s efforts.

There are some very serious topics here on family and friends and culture and society. But the stories are told as a very delightful musical. But sometimes the songs and stories verge toward the silly but are absolutely as cute as can be. And we get to watch Arthur resolve is personal doubts and issues and present a very honest and personal narrative as part of the show.

But this is a play for youngsters! So there is a very rewarding number of humorous points that the kids just loved where they laughed out loud. And there a few that maybe only the parents got. But my favorite was during the song that Francine sings as part of the grand show. It’s about a woman spy that she discovered and researched from the American Revolution…and she suggests that we all sing about this brave woman instead of our founding fathers like, you know, Alexander Hamilton! LOL! I loved that part.

James Carrington (center) and Jaloni Brown, Lucia Santana, Alex Radtke, Sanaiah HIbbler, and Niamh Mayne (from left to right) in ARTHUR™ & FRIENDS MAKE A MUSICAL! First Stage, 2022. Photo by Paul Ruffolo.

AND THEN, we have the big musical climax, when Elwood Rocks and Lakewood School Rocks!

This is an original piece by John Maclay who wrote the text and lyrics, and Brett Ryback (who also is the musical director) who wrote the music and lyrics. So this is a local effort. And Khalia Davis did a marvelous job at bringing together a talented and energetic cast and getting them through a fairly complicated and lengthy play. What an outstanding job and what an amazing start to the First Stage 2022/23 season.

Zach Thomas Woods (center), Alice Rivera and James Carrington (background) in ARTHUR™ & FRIENDS MAKE A MUSICAL! First Stage, 2022. Photo by Paul Ruffolo.

This is certainly a good play for anyone but of course the main content is aimed at children five and up. But everyone who attends will have a wonderful time.

So, Arthur and Friends Make A Musical! runs at the Todd Wehr Theater in the Marcus Center until November 6, 2022. Tickets can be ordered HERE! And there are family packages available.

Extra Credit Reading? The Playbill is HERE! Cast and Crew listing HERE! And of most interest, info on the young performers is HERE!

P.S. Kudos to the person who decorated the guitars in the grand finale. Clearly modeled after namesake Gibson guitars! LOL!