Monday, December 3, 2012

Review: Growing Stage's 'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer'

Rear: William Ward as The Snowman with David Spellman (axe)
Becky Nitka and P.J. Schweizer at bottom (Bunnies unidentified)

"You know Dasher and Dancer, And Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid, And Donner and Blitzen. But do you recall...The most famous reindeer of all?"

Yes, it's "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" now starring in the delightful musical production of, you guessed it,  "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” at one of New Jersey's theatre treasures, The Growing Stage, rightly billed "The Children’s Theatre of New Jersey."

This stage production, the New Jersey premiere, is adapted by Robert Penola from the popular 1964 television special with music and lyrics by Johnny Marks.  "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" is the perfect holiday treat for young families (and fun, too, for seniors). It is under the able direction of Stephen L. Fredericks, the Growing Stage’s Executive Director, with musical direction by Laura Petrie and outstanding choreography by Jillian Petrie.

Do you remember the story of Rudolph from the television special? The adventure is set in Santa's North Pole village where by Christmas Eve the weather has turned dark and foul and Santa is set to cancel his world-wide flight, until he realizes that the young reindeer, Rudolph, shunned by most of the inhabitants because of his shiny, glowing red nose, can save Christmas if he guides Santa's sleigh.

The cast features six professional performers: the Growing Stage regular, Becky Nitka is a charmer in the title role of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer;  William Ward makes a wonderful Sam the Snowman (excellent costume) the narrator who leads the singing of the now classic "Holly Jolly Christmas," and, of course, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer"; P.J. Schweizer as Hermey the Elf, hates to make toys and dreams of becoming a dentist, he has a cute duet with Becky Nitka "I Am Not Just A Misfit."; David Spellman is spot-on as Yukon Cornelius, the prospector whom the two "misfits," Hermey and Rudolph, encounter on their journey beyond the North Pole and leads them to the Island of Misfit Toys.

In the key roles of Mr. & Mrs. Claus are director Steve Fredericks and the exceptional singer/actress Jenna Morris. They pair nicely. Fredericks makes a handsome Santa, albeit a bit shy in the weight department. Morris is the perfect sweet, caring "mother" to Santa's Elves and reindeer, including Rudolph.

The lead performers are ably assisted by community theatre veteran Steve Nitka as Donner and Boss Elf, Equity candidates Jillian Petrie as Mrs. Donner and Will Sandoval as Coach Comet.

Rounding out the cast are twenty-four enthusiastic and talented junior performers;  Alana Claffey, Dalton Allison, Jennifer Andreacchi, Amanda Beck, Bryn Bennett, Carly Berkeland, Grace Brizek, Sal Constantino, Peyton Crimi, Matthew Fralley, Amelia Graham, Ethan Graham, Lexi Halbur, Megan Hurley,Jillian McLaughlin, Lindsey McLaughlin, Jacob Meth, Mackenzie Miller, Brooke Nagel, Savannah Doelfel, Erin Quinn, Sydney Reynolds, Justin Watt and Sophie Verhalen.
Director Steve Fredericks' key crew members are assistant director Danny Campos, music director Laura Petrie, choreography Jillian Petrie and stage manager Steve Graham.

One of the pleasures of the Growing Stage productions is to see the way the youngsters in the audience respond with such delight and full attention to the blend of pros with the young community players.  We attended the sold-out Sunday afternoon performance (capacity 240) where some of the children were as young as three. They were active (translation: noisy) prior to the start of the play and during intermission, but amazingly not during the performance.

Part of the attraction, beyond the colorful, tuneful fun on stage is the theater itself. The Palace Theatre started life in 1919 with vaudeville, but since 1981 has been transformed into  a fascinating children's theatre with outstanding murals of various fairy tales lining the side walls.

The Growing Stage's "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" is an excellent family outing. A particularly wonderful way for children to be introduced to the magic of live theatre. The combination of the familiar songs, charming performances, attractive set and fine dancing will also keep the adults pleased.

The fun doesn’t end with the finale, there are cut-outs of the Snowman and Rudolph available for taking photos (no charge!) and all of the performers gather in the lobby to greet the audience and sign autographs!

Reviewed by Rick Busciglio  December 2, 2012

The play will run until December 23, 2012. Performances are Fridays at 7:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. The Palace Theatre is located on Route 183 in Netcong, New Jersey just minutes from routes 46 and 80. Parking is free either behind the theatre or curbside.

The Growing Stage continues FUN-tastic Fridays with all tickets $15! Saturday and Sunday tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for children and seniors.  To place your reservation, contact the Growing Stage Box Office at (973) 347-4946 or e-mail at  Group rates and Birthday Party packages are available.

Becky Nitka as Rudolph with Jenna Morris as Mrs. Claus and Stephen Fredericks as Santa
Photos supplied by The Growing Stage

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