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: Red Bull Theater Calls For Submissions For Their 2022 Short New Play Festival!

I am just passing along the announcement and here’s the link to the submissions webpage:

OVERVIEW: Red Bull Theater’s Short New Play Festival returns on Monday, July 11, 2022. Six brand new short plays will be selected from an open-submission process and presented in live in-person staged readings alongside two new short plays by commissioned writers, STEPHEN ADLY GUIRGIS (Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train, Our Lady of 121st Street) and LARISSA FASTHORSE (The Thanksgiving Play, What Would Crazy Horse Do?).

INSPIRATION: We are looking for work with classical inspiration. The word ALCHEMY is just a jumping-off point for creative thematic juices. Review our Mission and take a look through our history of Readings and Productions to see the kind of work we have done. Respond to a play we’ve produced or choose a classic of your own to adapt. You might riff on a classical character, borrow a classical milieu, or be inspired to create a brand new style of dramatic verse. Finding inspiration from classics beyond the traditional Western canon is welcome. We hope you will be in dialogue with classical theater in a multitude of creative and surprising ways. 

SUBMISSION FEE: There is a $10 submission fee.


SELECTED PLAYWRIGHTS: will receive a staged reading of their submission as part of the festival on Monday, July 11, 2022, performed by an ensemble company of some of New York City’s finest actors.

will receive a commissioning fee of $400 and will receive a travel reimbursement of up to $400 to attend the festival rehearsal and performance on Monday, July 11 in New York City.

will be consulted on choices for the shared ensemble cast, will have final script approval, and will have the opportunity to have their play published and licensed by Stage Rights as part of our Red Bull Shorts series.

There are some other pieces of information and guidelines that playwrights will want to know and a bit of ‘fine print’…which can be found on the Red Bull website.


The Wonder of Women By John Marston, The Latest Zoom Reading By Red Bull Theater.

Red Bull Theater is a talented theater group that presents Elizabethan and Jacobean plays that aren’t Shakespeare. And on a number of occasions I have extolled their acquired ability at doing fresh and engaging on line readings via Zoom…and this presentation of The Wonder of Women written by John Marston and directed by Nathan Winkelstein is no exception.

Now imagine a play where a royal nobleman has a beautiful daughter sought after by two powerful young royals…and the losing suitor takes particular offense and starts a war. And here we have the premise behind The Wonder of Women. But of course it doesn’t end there. The backdrop is the wars between Carthage and Rome…and as Rome invades the land of Carthage to distract Hannibal’s progress in Italy…said rival suitors change and re-change and change again their numerous alliances…with the luckless bride caught in the cross fire. So through out we have an immense amount of bloodshed and characters who suffer from not quite understanding where the royals currently hold allegiance.

In the end, nobody…and I mean nobody wins.

courtesy of Red Bull Theater

The Red Bull presents this reading via six very engaging actors.

The three principal characters are Syphax, ably played by Derek Smith. Syphax is the losing suitor for the hand of Sophonisba and Mr. Smith plays his role as the vengeful rogue from start to tragic finish. The husband of Sophonisba is played by Ro Boddie! As he plays Massinissa, he effectively runs the gamut of star struck lover to ardent defender of Carthage to turncoat of his own accord…in both his marriage and his political allegiances. And the lovely Sophonisba is played remarkably by Cara Ricketts. Sophonisba loves Massinissa and suffers the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune up to a point…in the end she refuses to be a pawn in the great dramas of men…and our tragedy comes to a bloody end.

And we have three other hard working cast members…who have to play a number of different roles…something that I would think far more daunting in a Zoom reading than on a stage.

First we have Sarin Monae West who handles her multiple roles with grace, charm, and a remarkable directness: Gelasso, a Senator of Carthage; Nuntius, a solder of Cirta; Zanthia, servant of Sophonisba; and Eroctho, a night hag. Probably the best character she’s been handed here is the flirtatious and conniving role of Zanthia. I look forward to seeing here play here again in the future.

Robert Cuccioli has two prominent character roles here. First as Asdrubal, a Senator of Carthage and the unfortunate father of Sophonisba. Thinking he has married off his daughter well he finds himself at the helm in the war against Rome. And then playing in the opposite camp he is also Scipio, the Roman general. This oppositional casting confused me at first.

And Reynaldo Piniella is the final cast member and he is charged with a number of royal figures and a major league rogue. Here he is well cast as first Vangue, a servant of Syphax; Laelius, a lieutenant of Rome; and Gisco, a murderer.

I have been lax on getting this written…The Wonder of Women is streaming until tomorrow evening. It is free but with a pay what you can request. Here is the link!

And extra credit reading? Here is the playbill and cast family tree!

screen capture by Ed Heinzelman