by MIKE CHAIKEN
There is a tendency when creative people take on the job of remaking a classic children’s tale to modernize things.
They feel the need to reinvent the story and, often, in the process inject a bit of modern-day cynicism into the final product.
“The Grinch” comes to mind, first. The movie turned sweet tale from Dr. Seuss into a frenetic, slightly dark, and sinister tale that seemed to have snuck Christmas into the story as a mere afterthought.
So heading into the Bushnell Friday night to see, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer The Musical,” I went into the theater wondering how they would tinker with the original story.
For most of us, “Rudolph” is a holiday tradition that makes us nostalgic for an innocent childhood where Christmas time was about wonder, the power of toys, and behaving ourselves so we made Santa’s nice list rather than naughty.
So I wondered what they were going to do to spoil that sense of nostalgia and how they were going to leave the children behind to appeal to the adults who had watched the show decades ago.
I’m pleased to say, that beyond extending some of the choreography and musical numbers to provide for an hour, the show stayed true to the original. The show was about pleasing the kids more than their parents.
The stage adaption by Robert Penola used most of the original dialogue from the television special. The music were the original compositions created by Johnny Marks for the animated special. And the orchestrations were true to the original ones used in the original “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”
Additionally, it was clear the costume and puppet designers, Harddrive, studied the original animation and brought it to life for the stage. They were nearly identical to what I remember from the show. Especially impressive was the Abominable Snowman, which lumbered out onto stage and provided one of the scariest—from a child’s point of view—moments of the evening.
The cast also clearly studied the original special and stayed true to the original vocal performances. Lexy Baeza, who played Rudolph, had the youthful voice of the young buck with the beaming nose just right. Wesley Edwards as Hermey, the elvish dentist-to-be, also was spot on.
The direction by Dana Salimando also moved at a brisk pace—but not too frenetic, which was perfect for little ones. Importantly for the parents, the curtain rose at 7 p.m. on Friday and we were out of there just before 8:30 p.m.
I recognize the views of an adult about a children’s show doesn’t always hold a lot of weight. But I attended the show with two children, Ayva and Aurianna Monteiro, and their mother Nicole, all of Southington, who all were pleased with the production.
“My favorite character in it was Hermey,” said Aurianna. “I thought it was really funny … I really liked it.”
Aurianna added, “I really liked it because it was like the original show. It sounded like the characters in the original movie. And the Abominable Snowman looked just like the original one.”
Aurianna also loved the songs in the show, such as “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “A Holly Jolly Christmas.” She said they made her think of Christmas.
Aurianna’s little sister Ayva also had a smile after the show. She said she really liked the Abominable Snowman “because it was kind of scary.”
And when Rudolph flew across the stage, so he could lead Santa’s sleigh on Christmas eve, Ayva said, “It made me really happy.”
Overall, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” was a sweet and touching story about a misfit reindeer who found his true calling and became the hero who saved Christmas. It was a perfect show for little ones who believe in the magic of Christmas.
The show continues throughout the weekend at The Bushnell, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford with performances today, Saturday, at 11 a.m., 2 p.m., and 7 p.m. and Sunday at 11 a.m., 2 p.m., and 5 p.m.
For tickets, go to Bushnell.org.
I give “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer the Musical,” with the blessing of Aurianna and Ayva Monteiro, four out of four stars.