Atlanta INtown December 2010By Collin Kelley

Since it premiered on television in 1964, Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer has been a beloved holiday classic. Now, families can enjoy the story in a whole new way: live on stage at the Center for Puppetry Arts.

In the works for nearly a year, Rudolph is adapted and directed by the Center’s Artistic Director, Jon Ludwig, the production faithfully embraces the original and include all of the beloved characters such as Hermey, the elf who is an aspiring dentist, Yukon Cornelius, and the Abominable Snow Monster. The Center worked with Character Arts LLC, which owns the rights to the special, to debut the first licensed stage production of Rudolph.

“The story of Rudolph has endured because it talks of self-acceptance, which everyone is looking for,” Ludwig said. “It’s a classic tale of self-discovery and a true ‘growing-up’ story.”

The Puppet Building Shop become a veritable Santa’s Workshop as the team designed and built the 60 puppets that appear on stage.

The 1964 special used small, articulated puppets in stop-motion animation. To adapt the show for the stage, the puppet makers watched the show hundreds of times, using frame-captures to build larger versions that are incredibly faithful to the original.

Anyone who loves the TV special will instantly recognize not only the characters, but the setting as well. The live version will use projections and animations to help propel the action along with a nod toward the TV show.

Children and adults will surely get the warm fuzzies as they see the puppets, which were designed by resident puppet designer/builder Jason von Hinezmeyer, who worked for six months with a small team crafting the Rudolph characters

“I think I watched the TV show more than 200 times, much of it frame by frame,” Hinezmeyer said. “Making the puppets to scale was one of the biggest challenges. This is the biggest show I’ve ever worked on.”

The faithful stage set glides on tracks to easily change scenes, while four separate Rudolph puppets are used to show him growing up to be Santa’s famous sleigh leader. Also impressive is the 7-foot-tall Abominable Snow Monster, which is part puppet and part suit with an interior camera and mechanisms.
Most surprisingly, six puppeteers control the stage action and provide the voices for the characters. Watching the puppeteers and designers at work, it’s obvious they are excited by bringing Rudolph to life.

Director Ludwing summed it up like this: “It’s been a blast working on this show.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is on stage now and continues through Jan. 2 with afternoon and evening performances. Tickets for patrons 2 and older are $16 and include admission to the performance, Create-A-Puppet Workshop (or Create-A-Puppet To-Go Kit), and all museum exhibits.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.