Director/Choreographer Dana Solimando on RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER: THE MUSICAL

Dana Solimando

Get ready to saddle up for a sleigh ride with Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Musical. The stage version of the classic holiday television special will fly into New York City direct from its national tour. The limited-engagement at Madison Square Garden will run from December 1st-18th.

In 1964, the beloved stop-motion animated television classic, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, made its network television debut. It’s been broadcast every year since and is still the nation’s longest-running and highest-rated Christmas television special.

Featuring the original songs by Johnny Marks, this new family-friendly stage version is rapidly becoming a tradition for a new generation.

I spoke with director/choreographer Dana Solimando on how she adapted this iconic TV special for the stage.

How exciting to have the show make it’s New York City debut.What does it feel like to bring such a beloved television special to life?

It’s thrilling to be at Madison Square Garden. When we started the project three years ago we never imagined it would be leaping forward so quickly. I think it’s a show that everyone would want to see with his or her children. They can pass down the tradition but in a different way. I mean Rudolph is a national treasure.

Tell me about your journey with the production.

It was quite a different show when we started on it three years ago. The television special is much shorter so we had to add more musical numbers for the stage version. There’s additional material that’s not in the movie. I spent a lot of time with Character Arts, the people that manage the brand of Rudolph. They had done some earlier versions of the show and wanted to change and improve on things.

I helped to come up with new concepts and we’ve incorporated some additional holiday songs by Johnny Marks. It’s pretty much everything that you see in the television special, plus more. We’ve added the classic, ” Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree.” It comes after “We Are Santa’s Elves” which is a number by the elves that Santa feels needs work. This new song is the Boss Elf’s attempt to create something that Santa would really love. It becomes a big swing number at the end of Act Two that even has Santa and Mrs. Claus dancing.

Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer

That sounds like fun. How wonderful to be able to add your own touches to the piece.

Well, the Claymation in the television special was created at a time when technology was not very advanced. There was only so much the characters could physically do. Our show is much more theatrical. We wanted to approach it as a full-blown musical. The original concept is still there but we’ve just made it bigger and better for live theater.

Is there anything you discovered about yourself in directing and choreographing this holiday staple? Did you embrace your inner child?

Absolutely! I have children so I’m able to see it through their eyes. There have been times when I had them come to the show because I wanted their feedback. I think as a parent, and someone who grew up with that TV special, it needed to satisfy both of us. So I’m trying to look at it through a parent’s eyes and also through children’s eyes.

What was casting the show like? Was there a special quality you looked for in the performers?

It’s a really interesting process actually. The first thing is that Character Arts has to approve all of the principals in the show. They’re very protective of Rudolph, and understandably so. Once the actors are cast I have them meet with a dialect coach to nail the sound of those original characters. It was also important to me that my performers could do more than just imitate. I prefer them to emulate the spirit of the character instead. We look for skilled actors that can deliver those iconic lines, yet still make it their own. I try to get the best of both worlds.

Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer

How are special effects and technology utilized?

There’s a wonderful use of projections in the chase sequence. It’s the scene where Yukon, Hermey and Rudolph are being chased by the Bumble. There’s also a snowstorm sequence that utilizes special effects and flying that’s quite amazing.

We have a fourteen-foot tall Bumble puppet. It takes three people to operate. One person is inside the body, and there’s a person on each arm. It really is quite an ordeal. I think that’s been our biggest challenge. Bringing that character to life in this humongous contraption has taken extra time, but well worth the effort.

I imagine the show is very nostalgic for adults who grew up with the 1964 TV special. How do they respond?

I equate it with a parent taking their kids to Disneyland for the first time. They relive the experience through their children. I’ll often sit in the back of the theater to watch the show and naturally hear reactions from the audience. I love when there’s a line or moment that every adult remembers. You can collectively see all of them look towards their children to see their reaction. Especially when Rudolph flies for the first time. Every kid in the audience gets really excited at that moment. I think they’re experiencing things the same way we did as kids. Yet there are also times when a scene gets a reaction in a whole new way.

Is there any audience participation in the show?

Without giving the whole show away, we do a little sing-a-long at the end of the show. It’s the classic follow the bouncing ball moment. In our case, it’s follow the bouncing snowflake.

What part of the show gets the biggest reaction from the crowd?

The Bumble! Everyone loves the Bumble. Just seeing him enter the stage for the first time is a big whoa moment!

Thank you, Dana. Good luck with Rudolph’s New York City debut.

You’re welcome, Bob. Please come and see us.

RUDOLPH 300 (002)

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All Rudolph photos courtesy of MSG Entertainment.

About the Author

Bob RizzoBob Rizzo began The Dance Coach as a valuable resource for aspiring dancers, teachers and choreographers looking for professional feedback on technique, performance and choreography. And for those who aspire to a career in dance, The Dance Coach is a trusted advisor offering career coaching and advice based on more than 30 years of professional experience in the dance world! The Dance Coach Blog focuses on dance related topics and people working in the entertainment industry. It features a mix of interviews, tips for dancers, performance reviews, and training opportunities. Read Bob Rizzo’s full bio here.

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