Stage & Dance

'Rudolph' on stage is remarkably faithful to the TV classic

Lexy Baeza, Nick Waaland and Wesley Edwards play three the central characters in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Musical.
Lexy Baeza, Nick Waaland and Wesley Edwards play three the central characters in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Musical.

There's something to be said for the warm and fuzzy feeling people get when they see the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer TV special. Maybe it's the characters, the story, the music or its stop motion animation. Whatever the reason, since it first aired in 1964, Rudolph has become a holiday classic.

Turns out its charm isn't confined to the small screen.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Musical will come to Central Kentucky for one night only Friday at the EKU Center for the Arts in Richmond, and anyone who attends will see an adaptation that brings much more than just the TV special's spirit to the stage.

The story of this musical is the same as that of the beloved TV special.

As the son of one of Santa's reindeer, Rudolph wants nothing more than to fly as part of Santa's sleigh team. But he is held back and made fun of because of his glowing red nose. As an outcast, he befriends a fellow outsider, an elf named Hermey, and the two run away together. They encounter both adventure and danger, meeting joyous prospector Yukon Cornelius, the fearsome Abominable Snow Monster and a whole island of misfit toys. When a blizzard threatens to cancel Christmas, Rudolph's bright red nose ends up saving the day, allowing Santa to ride through the storm and spread cheer and gifts across the world.

Lexy Baeza, 23, plays Rudolph in this touring stage production and has been fond of the TV special since she saw it as a child. Considering some of the perceived challenges bringing a stop-motion animated special to a theatrical setting, she says she is always pleasantly surprised how they managed to pull it off.

"You'll actually find that it's very true to the TV special," she says. "People who've talked to me about it have said, 'Oh my God, it looks just like the TV special put on stage."

A lot of what works about Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Musical is in the details, she says. It's impossible to re-create the unique effect of stop-motion animation, but the woodland creatures and inhabitants of the island of misfit toys are manned by puppeteers. The bright sets and colorful costumes are appropriately sugary sweet. All the songs people know and love are there, plus Fame and Fortune, a number from the original special that was cut for TV.

But one detail Baeza and her fellow cast mates might not have anticipated was the importance of the voices and getting them just right.

"They stressed that from the beginning: The voices need to be there," she says. "So, we kind of looked from the outside in, which is different than any approach that I've ever done."

Baeza says she and the cast were up to the task. In fact, the first utterances of Hermey and Yukon Cornelius are so spot-on, they are often met with a round of applause, she says. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Musical works to get almost everything about the TV special exactly right, but one of the musical's highlights is also its most spontaneous: when the cast leads the audience in a sing-along of Christmas classics. It's a way to get everyone involved, which is what the story of Rudolph effectively conveys so well.

"I love that it really celebrated differences, and we all have flaws and we have something that makes us special and different," Baeza says. "If you're confident in yourself, others will be too. I think that's a really important message."