Fun fact: When the 1964 stop-motion TV special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer first aired, Santa never swung by the Island of Misfit Toys. Viewers were apparently so aghast at his heartlessness that the studio produced a new scene, with Santa rescuing the toys for delivery to deserving children. I'm not sure how those viewers would respond to the updates Bad Reputation Productions has made in its live-stage adaptation of the holiday classic, but I doubt distress would be one such reaction. Adapted by Shelley McLendon and directed by John Breen, Rudolph: On Stage pays loving homage to the longest-running Christmas TV special in history, tugging on deep-seated nostalgia without devolving into schmaltziness—or, crucially, trying for edginess with misguided scatalogical humor.
Instead, we get Jed Arkley as a wide-eyed, clumsy Rudolph and McLendon as his gal pal Clarice, prancing delicately about the stage (when McLendon later plays Charlie-in-the-Box, her physicality and comic timing are equally spot-on). Tony Marcellino portrays both the skinny jeans-clad Santa and misfit elf/aspiring dentist Hermey, constantly flicking his head to shake his blond Bieber bangs out of the way. Things can be rough around the edges, and the production could stand to lose some of its meta-commentary, but thatâs forgotten during giddy song-and-dance routines that perfectly ape the jerkiness of stop-motion animationâand big ups to the lady elves for their âSingle Ladiesâ choreography.
And weâd be remiss to ignore Portland Mercury editor and veteran community theater actor William S. Humphrey, who slathers his face with white makeup and dons an elaborate costume (that, the program notes, he built himself) as Sam the Snowman. All twinkly eye and swishy walkâthe bottom snowball sways slowly side-to-side as he shuffles aroundâhe presides over the yuletide proceedings in a fatherly and only occasionally creepy manner.
CoHo Theater, 2257 NW Raleigh St. 7:30 pm Fridays-Saturdays through Dec. 21. $20-$24. Tickets here.