BWW Review: A RUDOLPH For the Ages
Back to the Article
by Nancy Grossman
Rudolph the Red Necked Reindeer
Based on the 1964 Rankin/Bass Christmas Special Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer; Written by Ryan Landry, Directed by James P. Byrne, Costume Design by Scott Martino, Set Design by Windsor Newton, Sound Design by Roger Moore, Choreography by Delta Miles
CAST: Jesse James Wood (Rudolph), Olive Another (Herbie the Proctologist), Gene Dante (Thurston Howell and Prancer, the gay reindeer), Liza Lott (Drew Barrymore), Ryan Landry (Lovey Howell, Foreman of the elves), Penny Champayne (Mrs. Claus), Tim Lawton (Santa Claus), Grace Carney (Clarice), Keith Orr (Frosty/Sharon, the Narrator), James P. Byrne (Colonel Comet); Dangerous Toys/Chorus: Delta Miles, Jane Earl Jones, Robin Banks, Libbie Lou, Christine McVien, Rosalie Norris, Shelley Croteau
Performances through December 23 by The Gold Dust Orphans at Machine, 1254 Boylston Street, Boston, MA; Box Office 800-838-3006 or http://www.brownpapertickets.com
Rudolph the Red Necked Reindeer is a brand new, feel good Christmas show, the likes of which you will not see past, present, or future on any stage other than the one at the Ramrod Center for the Performing Arts, the theatrical home of Ryan Landry and The Gold Dust Orphans. Fans of the troupe know what to expect as they descend the staircase to the lower level of the space better known as Machine Nightclub, but newcomers will quickly succumb (die laughing) to the outrageously clever antics, inventive set design (Windsor Newton), and scrumptious costumes (Scott Martino), all created in service to the re-telling of one of the beloved television specials of the season.
Written by Landry and directed by James P. Byrne, this update takes a number of liberties, such as making Rudy (newcomer Jesse James Wood) the progeny of snooty reindeer named Thurston (Gene Dante) and Lovey (Landry) Howell (as in “Gilligan’s Island”) and having him speak with a common southern accent, all the more appalling to his parents who are primarily interested in their social status. Most importantly, the namesake in Rudolph is burdened with a ring of blinking red lights around his neck rather than the brightly glowing nose that Gene Autry sang about in the Johnny Marks-penned tune more than half a century ago, but is equally shunned and scorned by the “normal” members of his breed.
There is, of course, the cute doe Clarice (golden-throated Grace Carney) who is smitten with the hunky young buck, and the misfit elf Herbie (Olive Another), who yearns to become a proctologist (another slight departure from the cartoon elf who wants to be a dentist), who joins forces with Rudy. They leave Christmas Town in an effort to find a place where they can be themselves, finding all kinds of adventures and dangers along the way. Rather than meeting the prospector Yukon Cornelius and his dogsled, Herbie and Rudy encounter Drew Barrymore (Liza Lott) and her sleigh pulled by half a dozen extra-terrestrials. Together they journey to the Island of Dangerous Toys, inhabited by a colorful Lion King (Jane Earl Jones) and a cadre of nasty playthings, and challenge the Abominable Icicle Snow Monster Lady who strikes terror in the local townspeople.
The whole tale is narrated by a plump, transgendered Frosty/Sharon the Snowperson (Keith Orr), and, as you would expect, Santa (Tim Lawton) and Mrs. Claus (Penny Champayne) play prominent parts. However, their parts are not what you’d expect, as Santa is a major stoner and his wife is a Jewish refugee from Florida in a tacky, painted-on gold lamé jumpsuit, whose main ambition is to become a member of the Iceberg Country Club. The energetic and talented members of the ensemble play Santa’s elves, all of the other reindeer, and the dangerous toys. They do a crackerjack job of performing the choreography of Delta Miles in the big production numbers that open and close the show, as well as providing backup on several other songs.
Known for the comedy and raunchy parody they reliably provide year after year, the Orphans have upped their game with dance ability, musical skills, and recorded big band accompaniment. There are some terrific voices in the chorus, but Jones and Miles in particular blow the audience away with a gospel-like song in the second act, and Lott will have you believing that Drew Barrymore is a songstress when she belts out “Sweet Nothings” with a pair of ET’s backing her up. Landry’s lyrics breathe new life into other old songs like “Sisters” (now “Together”) and The Coasters’ “Little Egypt - Ying Yang” (“Dangerous Toys”).
Despite being the new kid on the block, Wood acquits himself well in the lead role. It doesn’t hurt that he plays against veteran troupers Another, Dante, Landry, and Champayne, all of whom consistently inhabit their characters, and they all milk every last drop of comedy from Landry’s script. I don’t want to give away any specifics, but there are sight gags galore (even a couple that might make you gag), and I dare you to leave the theater without a stitch in your side and a song of the season in your head. Just one caveat: leave the children at home.
Photo credit: Michael von Redlich (Tim Lawton, Jesse James Wood)