OFFBEAT: 'Rudolph' shines on stage, despite length of reindeer games

Phil Potempa's daily entertainment news column
2013-12-05T00:00:00Z OFFBEAT: 'Rudolph' shines on stage, despite length of reindeer gamesBy Philip Potempa, (219) 852-4327

It's a tough challenge to improve on something perfect.

The 1964 stop-animation television special "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" has been capturing the holiday spirit, imagination and love of three generations of old and young.

So when Broadway In Chicago announced a stage tribute called "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Musical" was coming to the Windy City for a holiday flight, I was as skeptical as the marooned castaways of the Island of Misfit Toys and their woeful pleas to be rescued.

But what's so important to remember about this family-friendly, young-audience focused production, is it works as a means to bring this wonderful tale to today's youth who likely haven't crossed paths with "the most famous reindeer of all."

Just extended until Jan. 5 at Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, 175 E. Chestnut in Chicago, this new stage musical incarnation is the result of the partnership between Emerald City Theatre and First Stage theater companies.

Clocking in at 90 minutes, which includes a 15 minute intermission, it feels a bit longer than necessary. The restless rustling of wee ones in their seats (and my own habit of wanting to look at my watch) serve as a fine indicator of this.

All of the favorite songs from the television special are included, like "Silver and Gold" and "Holly, Jolly Christmas," as well as a bonus.

The song, "Fame and Fortune" (which replaced "We're a Couple of Misfits" in airings of the TV special from 1965 until the movie was restored in 1998) does not appear on the soundtrack album, but in THIS new stage version, it's inserted for a perfect fit.

The clever recreated puppets used, from the dogs that pull Yukon's dog-sled to the rabbits, seals and squirrels and especially the looming Abominable Snow Monster are works of art and exact homages to their TV counterparts.

(I was less thrilled with the reindeer costumes, since they include a portal in each deer's neck to reveal the faces of the actors and actresses.)

First Stage Artistic Director Jeff Frank, who directs and Emerald City Producing Artistic Director Ernie Nolan, responsible for the choreography and associate director duties, have spared no expense to capture the beauty and the magic of this story and its important message to everyone: Be yourself.

Brandon Kirkham as production designer with Jason Fassl as lighting designer and Matt Whitmore responsible for sound design, have masterfully recreated the look of the scenery and sets as highlighted in the TV special.

Talent standouts for the performance I caught over the weekend, include a nice turn by Michael Accardo as Yukon Cornelius and spot-on characterization of the grouchy Boss Elf offered by Jason Bowen. Ryan Byrne has a commanding voice and presence as young buck Fireball.

Tickets start at $23 at (800) 775-2000 or

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at or (219) 852-4327.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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