BWW Q&A: Matt Gutschick of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer at The Rose Theater

Now through December 23rd, 2023.

By: Dec. 06, 2023
BWW Q&A: Matt Gutschick of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer at The Rose Theater

The world’s favorite holiday classic will give the gift of Christmas cheer to Omaha audiences when Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer flies onto The Rose stage, Dec. 1 - 23, 2023. Based on the 1964 Rankin & Bass Claymation television special, The Rose’s production will feature puppetry and other fun elements to create the characters from the North Pole, the Island of Misfit Toys and the Abominable Snowman, Bumble.

Families will enjoy the story, songs, words and characters of the beloved television special presented live on stage. "This is a colorful, music packed show with some of the most classic Christmas songs we hear each year on the radio," says Rose Artistic Director Matt Gutschick, who is directing the production. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is filled with songs that epitomize the holiday season: "Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree," "We’re a Couple of Misfits," "Holly Jolly Christmas," "Silver and Gold," and, of course, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." The theatrical production draws inspiration from the television special by the same name, which is the longest continuously-running Christmas TV special in the United States. The story follows the life of a young reindeer named Rudolph (played by DeVon Richards II) who is born with a glowing red nose.

Despite his family’s efforts to hide Rudolph’s nose, it doesn’t take long for the other reindeer to discover that he isn’t like the rest of them. Eventually Rudolph decides to run away. Along his journey, he discovers a variety of friends along the way who all consider themselves misfits, including Hermey, an elf who wishes to be a dentist (played by Jay Hayden); prospector Yukon Cornelius (played by Karl Houser); and an entire island filled with misfit toys who believe they aren’t wanted by any children.

Pursued by a terrifying abominable snowman called Bumble, Rudolph discovers true worth is found from within. When Rudolph finally returns home, he discovers his family loves him and has been looking for him – and now they need his help. When a storm threatens to cancel Christmas, Santa (played by Patrick Wolfe) looks to the little reindeer for a solution. In the end, the very things that make Rudolph and his friends feel like outcasts may just be the tools they need to save the day.

The Rose has collaborated with the world-renowned puppet theater What If Puppets from Kansas City to create puppet characters with the same emotional appeal as something created by Jim Henson.

"I am just enamored of the puppets we created in partnership with What If Puppets out of Kansas City. They are some of the best puppet designers in the country," says Gutschick. " The puppets used in the production are directly inspired by the television special and will evoke happy memories for everyone who has seen the Christmas classic.

"They look like the classic Rankin and Bass movie is coming to life before your very eyes," says Gutschick. "The highlight, of course, is our 10-foot-tall abominable snowman, otherwise lovingly called Bumble." The Rose’s production of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer builds on the nostalgia of the classic production with interactive moments where audience members can become a part of the action.

"We want the audience to feel embraced by the experience of this," says Gutschick. "We have a few participatory moments where some kids will help pack Santa’s sleigh, and we’re giving everyone their own Rudolph nose to sing along with the cast at the end of the show." At just 90 minutes with an intermission, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a perfect family outing for young and old alike.

"This show packs quite a bit of visual spectacle and dance into its condensed run time. This isn’t the kind of holiday fare that is going to eat your entire afternoon, but it’s going to feel really packed with memorable moments," say Gutschick. Audiences at Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer will be left with a true holiday gift: the important message that what makes you different can make you special.

As Gutschick explains, "Rudolph teaches us to be ourselves even if those around us are not always accepting. Rudolph and Hermey behave with integrity and kindness throughout – it ends up being their community that needs to change as the play progresses."

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer will fly into The Rose Dec. 1 - 23, 2023, with performances Fridays at 7 pm, Saturdays at 2 pm and 5:30 pm and Sundays at 2 pm. (There will be no 5:30 pm performance on Saturday, Dec. 23.) The show is 90 minutes with an intermission.

The theater recommends that guests arrive at least 30 minutes before the performance start time to allow for parking and seating. ASL interpretation for the Deaf and audio description services will be available at the 2 pm show on Saturday, December 16. This showing will also be offered as a sensory-friendly performance; see The Rose website at www.rosetheater.org for information.

Tickets for Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer are priced at $37 for the main floor and $32 for the balcony. Rose members will receive discounted tickets. Discounted tickets are also available at all area Hy-Vee stores. Groups of 10 or more should contact The Rose Box Office for information on group rates. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is sponsored by Children’s Nebraska, Nebraska Furniture Mart, Omaha Steaks, the Nebraska Arts Council and the Nebraska Cultural Endowment. Kiewit Companies is the Opening Night sponsor.

For more information, cast bios and tickets, visit www.rosetheater.org.

Matthew Gutschick serves as The Rose Theater's artistic director. His recent directing credits at The Rose include "Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella," "The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical," "Howie D: Back in the Day," "Elf The Musical", "Prancer" and "A Christmas Story". Other directing credits include "Cyrano" with Parallel 45, "The Sparrow" and "Anon(ymous)" at the Interlochen Center for the Arts, "Wuthering Heights" at the Mint Theatre in New York, and "Whacked Fairy Tales" at Twin City Stage. His plays have been workshopped/produced by Wordsmyth Theatre Company, Horse Trade Theater Group (NYC), Reverie Productions (NYC), Tri State Actors’ Theatre, and Magic Chicago. Matthew’s work for MagicMouth Theatre won a New Horizons Playwriting Award and the company premiered a new magic-theatre piece, "A Christmas Carol In Prose" with Parallel 45 in Traverse City, MI. He is the former artistic director of the Children’s Theatre of Winston-Salem and completed a fellowship with the Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis under the mentorship of Peter Brosius. Matthew assisted Peter Brosius on productions of "500 Hats of Bartholemew Cubbins" and "A Christmas Story". He is a former Managing Director of the Yale Cabaret where he produced over 14 world premieres. He holds a BA in Theater from Wake Forest University and received an MFA in Theater Management from the Yale School of Drama. He is in his eleventh season as artistic director of The Rose.

What inspired you to bring "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" to the stage at The Rose?

Like so many people across the world, we love the Rankin and Bass stop-motion film. Combining that heartwarming story with the magic of live theater felt like an opportunity we could not pass up. We wanted to bring the Island of Misfit Toy characters and Bumble to life as closely to the designs of the original as possible while taking advantage of the conventions of musical theater- big dance numbers, stunning visual spectacle with lights and projections, as well as opportunities for the audience to participate in this story.

Can you talk a bit about the process of adapting the classic TV special for a live theatrical performance?

We worked with What If Puppets in Kansas City to design the Misfit Toys and the Bumble (Abominable Snow Monster). They did an exceptional job. The puppets are truly extraordinary, with the Bumble being a three person rig that stands about 10 feet tall! We also wanted to embrace moments for the audience to join in the storytelling. Like a sing-a-long video, we project the lyrics to a few of the famous tunes in this show such as "Silver and Gold" and "Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer".

How did you work with What If Puppets to create the puppetry in this production?

We engaged them almost a year ago actually! This was a big design and build process for them, but they are total experts and master artists. We had the puppets arrive in October as rehearsals were just starting, and we've had the advantage of some awesome puppet direction from The Rose's own Stephanie Jacobson. Stephanie worked with the Jim Henson Company earlier in her career. She really helped the actors bring the puppets to life.

Can you talk about the challenges and rewards of incorporating puppetry into a live theatre production?

Sometimes figuring out the difference between where the puppeteer thinks the puppet is looking and where the puppet is ACTUALLY looking is a little tricky. We also had to rehearse the Bumble moments in this show as if they were choreography with precise movements and timing because that puppet is so big and required the careful coordination of the three puppeteers as well as all the characters around them.

What can audiences expect from the music in this production?

All of the songs from the film make their way into this show with a few key additions. So audiences can expect "Holly Jolly", "Silver and Gold", "Fame and Fortune" alongside the newly added but classic Brenda Lee hit "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree". A few of the numbers have exciting dance breaks that take advantage of what live actors can do that the figurines in the film couldn't. Tap dancing, acrobatics, and big production numbers are all in the mix when you do this show as a piece of live theater.

Can you share some insights on the theme of embracing one's uniqueness which is central to "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer"?

This is really a story about how the community of Christmastown changes into a more accepting one of folks with differences. Rudolph's red nose at first seems like a problem, but the reality is that the community of other characters simply needed to change their lens on Rudolph. The snowstorm that Rudolph guides Santa through provides that opportunity. It's a wonderful metaphor for how we can all do a better job of recognizing each person's unique gifts.

What’s your favorite part of this production and why?

We are giving every audience member a red nose to wear at the very end of the show as we sing a long with the actors to "Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer". Audiences are having a blast with this moment and wearing their noses all the way home. To commemorate the moment, we have the crew come out and take a quick picture with the actors and the audience all decked out with their red noses. It's a fun way of embracing community and a bit of silliness.

Can you talk about the importance of The Rose Theater in the Omaha community, especially during the holiday season?

The Rose is actively sharing live theater and arts education across the metro throughout the year. We might be known for our shows and classes and summer camps, but we also have an amazing studio out at 120th and Center that has a whole theater in it exclusively for students to perform in. We offer free to participate workshops through many community partners in the community, with the largest being Omaha Public Schools. All of that happens because of generous donors who care about how theater gives kids lifelong skill ranging from collaboration and creativity to resilience.

Why should audiences come and see the show?

It is as if the classic Rankin and Bass movie is coming to life in a Broadway-esque show. The magic of the movie meets the magic of live theater. For many of the people seeing the show, that's even more exciting than watching the movie at home as a family. Seeing it live takes the experience to a new level.




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