by Peggy Sue Dunigan

“Where did you see the blizzard taking place? And the avalanche, which direction will that come from?” These unusual questions give First Stage's Artistic Director Jeff Frank something to plan while he prepares for the upcoming production. Following the festive Thanksgiving celebrations, Santa and company come to town in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer on Friday, November 23.

Avalanches and blizzards invite disaster for Rudolph and Santa’s team on their important December journey that all ends happily. The musical play was developed from a 1949 Montgomery Ward Christmas promotion, a story written to entice children and holiday shoppers to the stores. In 1964, Johnny Marks and Don Marks reincarnated the Rudolph story as a television special filled with classic holiday music. While there are 13 proper songs, the audience will cling to these favorites: Holly Jolly Christmas, The Most Wonderful Time of the Year, Jingle, Jingle, Jingle and There’s Always Tomorrow.

The home-spun animation featured in the original television special will be recreated by using more than 20 puppets designed by Production Designer Brandon Kirkham and crafted by Properties Director Mark Hare. “Snowkins," puppeteers dressed in all white, will “animate” or move the characters to make Rudolph and Santa’s sleigh fly, have woodland creatures creep to life and new toys from the workshop dance and sing. These puppeteers convincingly allowed Peter Pan to fly in a previous First Stage production and Frank has learned from those performances. Now set amid tall evergreens and white-capped mountains, the visual effect will be equally stunning.

Frank continues to uncover the emotional elements in First Stage productions. In this Rudolph, Frank explains there’s a fundamental father-son relationship between Donner, Rudolph’s father, and the unusual reindeer offspring. The company tweaked the script to develop a male bonding moment between parent and child that the audience will relate to and then reflect on.

Also significant to the play is Rudolph’s very red nose. Frank emphasizes that at some time everyone feels like a “misfit.” The production playfully illustrates how as Frank says, “We often judge people by one physical feature. And then we learn other things about that person’s character, without any pressure to conform.” He stops and smiles. “And then we appreciate the person for who they really are.”

This enchanting and magical team of Northern misfits brings dreams to life once again, arriving with whimsy to First Stage’s musical beginning on November winter nights. A “can't miss holiday experience" for those who attend Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. While deciding where that avalanche will come from on stage in the theater, Frank concludes, “The production emanates from an entertaining and engrossing story that encourages all ages to think about what’s really important.”

First Stage presents Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts through December 30. There are over 30 show times so everyone can make time to enjoy Rudolph and his friends, even between Christmas and New Years Day.

For further information, show times and tickets, click here. Tickets are also available at (414)273-7206, toll free at (888)612-3500. 

Visit postscript performing arts for more insightful previews and reviews by Peggy Sue Dunigan!

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