I went back and watched the 1964 stop-motion TV special that I remember watching excitedly every year of my childhood. Back then we couldn't click to watch just about anything ever made instantly. We would have to wait until the one time a year they would play classic's like Rudolph or The Wizard of Oz. These were family events that were looked forward to with great anticipation. We would have snacks and popcorn and all gather in the living room and we would join together as a family to share this special event.
Everyone knows the story of Rudolph the little reindeer that was born different. His parents are ashamed and try to keep secret his difference from the others. Sound familiar to anyone. This is a story that offers a message that is so much broader than just to LGBT kids, though I think definitely the hiding of the secret is most applicable to our community. But the story is bigger. It is also about the misfits, those who feel they don't belong. The elf that wants to be a dentist and he is shunned and made fun of. Who gay or straight, black or white, muslim, Christian or Jew cannot identify. This is a message that I dare say every single person on earth can identify with at some point in their life.
It is for this reason that I love the story of Rudolph and think it is the best choice of all the holiday fare coming to a stage near you for kids young and old. It offers something that most other shows cannot. There is the great nostalgia for the grown ups. Who did not watch this special year after year and has not continued that tradition with their own children. Most importantly is the story and underlying message that it offers.
I caught up with Wesley Edwards who plays Hermey, the elf who so desperately wants to be a dentist. This is his third year with the show and I caught him literally out of breath walking off stage from the final curtain call of a matinee performance on a day that he would perform the show four times. Why this show I asked. “I love children's theater. It is my biggest passion as far as theater goes. It is such a cool audience to perform for. This is the first experience in theater for some of these kids so to see their faces every night to bring that experience to them is really a dream come true.”
Edwards admits bringing such an iconic and beloved TV special to life requires respect for the original. “I think staying true to the 1964 original is something we try so hard for every night so people have that feeling of nostalgia, the feeling that your lunch box came to life or you feel like you are gathered around the TV watching it in 1964.” The cast even spends time with a voice coach to make sure they are matching those voices that we are all so familiar with from the TV special.
While all these elements from the sets to the voices are entrical parts of the show Edwards stresses we must not forget the message. “I think the most important part of the show is the message of our story. It is as pertinent in today's world as it was in 1964. The idea that we can all work together and use our unique traits to save the day. Remembering that everyone is special instead of bullying people. Celebrating those differences instead of making fun of them. Those differences can build a community.”
The story of Rudolph and Hermey the elf highlight a problem that today we call bullying. I don't know that there was even a term for it in 1964 when the TV show premiered. But it is this story line that I think makes the story so relevant today. Edwards agrees. “When it comes out that Rudolph has a red nose he feels so different that he decides to strike out on his own. Along the way he meets Hermey who though an elf didn't want to make toys, he wanted to do something different and become a dentist. Hermey was so out of place and so bullied that he left Christmas Town. These characters find a voice together. They learn that those differences are what help us save the day. Of course, when Rudolph comes back he saves the day again because Santa needs him to pull that sleigh. I think it's a great message that if you feel you are not being accepted, there is always a place for you somewhere.”
“Rudolph, The Red Nosed Reindeer-The Musical” plays 4 shows at Bass Hall in Fort Worth on Tuesday & Wednesday November 22-23 Tickets start at $27.50 and are available at http://www.basshall.com/ Rudolph then flies into Dallas' Music Hall at Fair Park for five performances Firday, November 25th to Sunday, November 27th. Tickets start at $20 and are available at http://dallassummermusicals.org/
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