This adaptation of the beloved 1964 TV special was first seen last year at the Milwaukee children's theater First Stage. Now Rudolph comes home, as it were—the character was created as a promotion for Chicago-based Montgomery Ward in 1939—in a co-production between First Stage and Chicago's Emerald City Theatre, presented at Broadway in Chicago's Broadway Playhouse.
The stage version, conceived and helmed by First Stage artistic director Jeff Frank, offers an almost too faithful recreation of the stop-motion original. There's charm to spare, sure, in the mix of adult and young actors—each role played by a teen or tween, including Rudolph and Hermey the elf, is assigned to two kids who alternate performances—and production designer Brandon Kirkham's replication of the TV special's well-known aesthetic is often quite clever: See Santa's sculpted beard turned into an unmoving half-mask on actor Robb Alton, or the way Sean Patrick Fawcett's Sam the Snowman costume allows him to glide as smoothly as the animated original. Yet while the actors sing live in numbers like "Holly Jolly Christmas" and "The Island of Misfit Toys," the apparently canned music (no musicians are credited in the program) can make the show's pacing feel a bit artificial.
This Rudolph is undoubtedly a slick production, smartly positioned to target shopping or lights-gazing families on the Mag Mile. And seeing young actors getting the final bows could be just the thing to spark a performing interest in younger viewers (the show is recommended for ages 3 and up). But given the ticket prices, adults may wish for some further variance from the annual free broadcast. After all, this is a story that's meant to celebrate uniqueness.