Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Review by Gil Benbrook

Also see Gil's review of Million Dollar Quartet Christmas

Debra K. Stevens, Matravius Avent, and Tommy Strawser
Photo by Tim Trumble
Based on the beloved stop-motion TV holiday special, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a faithful stage adaptation that will have fans of the show reliving the nostalgia of their childhood while also introducing young theatregoers to the joyful story of this misfit reindeer. Childsplay's production features a talented cast, including many Childsplay regulars, and wonderful creative aspects that combine to clearly deliver the message of the show: just because you may be different doesn't mean your uniqueness can't also be a strength.

The stage production is adapted by Robert Penola from Romeo Muller's 1964 teleplay, which was based on the original 1939 story by Robert L. May and the famous song by Johnny Marks. It closely follows the TV special and features all of the show's memorable songs. Narrated by Sam the Snowman and set in the North Pole, the story focuses on Rudolph, the newborn son of one of Santa's reindeer team, Donner, and his wife. Rudolph has a small difference that sets him apart—his bright red nose glows, which causes him to be dubbed a misfit, just like one of Santa's elves, Hermey, who doesn't like building toys and who aspires to be a dentist. When Rudolph decides to run away, feeling he's a disappointment to his family and tired of being mocked by the other reindeer, he runs into Hermey, who has also set off on his own. Their partnership sets in motion a plot where their unique qualities are used to help save Christmas.

Director Dwayne Hartford brings the perfect balance of comedy and drama to this production, and the cast all do a good job in portraying the beloved characters, with all but two of the actors playing multiple roles. While there are a few brief scary moments when the Abominable Snowman appears, Hartford's direction and the cast's performances are mostly lighthearted and humorous, though the serious message of the story is never short changed.

Tommy Strawser is bright, charming, energetic and innocent as Rudolph, and Jon Gentry is warm and engaging as Sam. The rest of the cast play so many parts that I have to imagine the many quick costume changes they all make offstage are as tightly choreographed as the show. Tommy Francesco is funny as Hermey, Katie McFadzen is a hoot as the fun-loving gold and silver prospector Yukon Cornelius, and Marshall Vosler is delightful as Santa. As Clarice, the reindeer who thinks Rudolph's nose is handsome, Anna Sera is radiant and winning. The rest of the cast play many supporting roles. Michael Thompson is bratty and joyful as the rambunctious reindeer Fireball and the Misfit Toy Charlie. As the Boss of the Elves, Debra K. Stevens is appropriately bossy and hilarious and, as Rudolph's mom, full of warmth. Matravius Avent brings strength and charisma to Donner, and Luz Navarro is cheerful and lovely as Mrs. Claus.

Kat Bailes' fun choreography is danced well by the cast and the music direction by Randi Ellen Rudolph delivers bright vocals. Aaron Jackson's colorful and inventive scenic design features several movable pieces that help to swiftly move the show along, and Jake Pinholster's projections deliver many creative moving background images, including a fun way to include the Abominable Snowman in the production. The costumes by Connie Furr are bright and imaginative in how they depict the various characters. William C. Kirkham's lighting and Connor Adams' sound design are bright and crisp.

The beauty of the story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is that its theme—of realizing that something about yourself that others think is odd can actually be something incredibly positive—is universal and something that every one of us feels at some point in our lives. It's also a message that is especially important for children to hear, which makes it a wonderful play for Childsplay to present.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer runs through December 24, 2021, at Childsplay, Herberger Theater Center, 222 East Monroe St., Phoenix AZ. For tickets and information, please visit or call the Herberger box office at 602-254-7399.

Directed by Dwayne Hartford
Choreographer: Kat Bailes
Music Director: Randi Ellen Rudolph
Scenic Designer: Aaron Jackson
Costume Designer: Connie Furr
Lighting Designer: William C. Kirkham
Projection Designer: Jake Pinholster
Sound Designer: Connor Adams

Donner/Misfit Toy/Elf: Matravius Avent
Mrs. Claus/King Moonracer/Young Reindeer: Luz Navarro
Hermey/Young Reindeer: Tommy Francesco
Sam: Jon Gentry
Coach Comet/Yukon Cornelius/Elf: Katie McFadzen
Clarice/Misfit Toy/Elf: Anna Sera
Mrs. Donner/Boss Elf/Misfit Toy: Debra K. Stevens
Rudolph: Tommy Strawser
Fireball/Elf/Misfit Toy-Charlie in the box: Michael Thompson
Santa Claus/Misfit Toy/Elf: Marshall Vosler