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.