Holiday favorite to take the stage at Presser Arts Center


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By Nathan Lilley, Managing Director

This is the story that everyone knows: the reindeer has a red nose. The nose is first seen as an obstacle. The reindeer falls in love. Santa doesn’t have to cancel Christmas, thanks to the reindeer in question.

Ultimately, the perceived affliction of the reindeer is recognized as the gift that it is.

Santa Claus eats his words.

All is forgiven and all is happily ever after.

This story, of course, is Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and it’s a story rooted in kids of all ages who grew up watching the stop-motion classic Rankin Bass on TV. Its annual screening is always eagerly awaited and its charm has stood the test of time, still attractive to young people today.

And this year, Presser Arts Center is putting the classic on stage. Director Lois Brace says the decision to introduce Rudolph was an easy one. Presser jumped at the chance to deliver the musical “as soon as the royalties become available”.

“They’ve been linked with the tour company for years,” Brace said, “so when they came out in 2020 we caught them ASAP.”

Auditions were held in August and rehearsals began shortly after.

Brace is an avowed lover of Rudolph and says it is part of her personal tradition.

“Rudolph kicks off my Christmas season,” she said. “Even as an adult, I still watch him. Maybe I’m drawn to the nostalgia or the timeless message that misfits really belong, bullies are always wrong – even if we don’t see their punishment – and the story is shaped by the kindness of others. It’s a timeless classic.

She still remembers seeing him for the first time and the following years as a child.

“It would have been with my sisters sitting on the floor of our living room with a TV that would have been the size of a tree stump,” she said. “I was stuck there. We knew all the songs and sang along with them.

Like many viewers, parts of the show caused unease.

“The abominable snow monster was really scary,” said Brace, “and I was always upset when the Yukon came over the edge of the cliff. “

With Rudolph now available, guarantees are in place to ensure the production is true to the classic to ensure the classic stays, well, classic.

“The royalties on this production have been very specific about maintaining the original Rankin and Bass costumes, set design, color scheme and visual treatment of the show,” said Brace. “We’ve all watched this stop-motion show a number of times to get it right.”

Presser’s production is “almost verbatim, just like the TV special,” Brace said, adding, “I don’t think anyone will be disappointed.”

Rudolph will have more than his share of the highlights, and the director provided additional insight into what attendees can expect.

“Well it just wouldn’t be Rudolph unless he could fly,” she said, “and there’s this horrible blizzard that’s got to come. But the most amazing part of this show will be the visual effects, the costumes and of course the amazing talented singers and actors that make up the production.

Martin Keller from Mexico is the set designer, builder and stage manager.

“Stage load is a rather new term that defines a person’s artistic treatment of an ensemble,” explains Brace. He is an incredible artist and a talented engineer. I expect the audience to verbalize the opening of the curtain with gasps – it’s so beautiful!

Keller was assisted with the construction by John Pasley, Leroy Brinker and Charlie Bigelow.

Rudolph’s costume master is Yoshiko Hayden from Vandalia.

“She’s a self-taught costume artist who has been with us for years,” said Brace. “His visions of the costume are realized through precise stitching and hand painting. She is extraordinary.

There will be a lot of song and dance, with a cast of characters hailing from Audrain and surrounding counties.

“Most people will ask where the actors are from,” Brace said. “They are always surprised to hear that all of our talent comes from the region. We have participants from the 30 mile region, all local and all very talented.

Here is the cast: Sam Snowman, David Wilkins; Father Christmas, Mike Harding; Mrs. Claus, Vanessa Brink; Donner, Jacob Lehnen; Ms. Donner, Katie Lehnen; Rudolph, Kiera Hayden; Hermey, Hannah Reetz; the elf boss, Karisa Hayden; Fireball, Abby Hamm; Coach Comet, Mike Briggs; Clarice, Jyllian Whitworth; Yukon Cornelius, Josh Lauer; Bumble, Carl Abbott; Clarice’s father, Blitzen, Grant Toellner; 1 year / dancer, Landon Whitworth; 1 year / Prancer, Miah Strode; Vixen, Mary Ann Kasubke; Dasher, Bruce Kasubke; Cupid, Chris Miller; Elfe 1, Vinton Lehnen; Elf 2, Brooke Day; Elf 3, Nadia Sommer; Elf 4 / Aviator, Tucker Herron; Elf 5, Sidney Cash; Elf 6, Dominic Garcia; King Moonracer, Carl Abbott; Charlie in the Box, Miriam Lauer; Doll, Lauren Hanley; Spotted elephant, Celia Blackaby; Cowboy / Ostrich, Sidney Cash; Plane, Ollie Toellner; Bird / Fish, Amiya George; Wood Rabbit 1, Amelia Lehnen; Wood Rabbit 2, Zayden Levings; Raccoon 1, Shelby Cook; Raccoon 2, Sophie Hamm.

The production team are: director, Lois Brace; musical director Ruth Nation; director, Lennette Brown; technical director, Morgan Cornett; choreographer, Kay Cook; the costume master, Yoshi Hayden; costume team, Christy Miller and Haley Bertrand; stage load, Martin Keller; sound, Mark Weaver; lights, Morgan Cornett; scenic construction, John Pasley, Leroy Brinker, Charlie Bigelow; the machinists Daida Herrera, Emiline Watt; fly team, Bucky Green; properties, Yoshi Hayden and Emiline Watt; makeup master, Josh Lauer; the director of the house, Linda Edwards; production photographer / graphic designer, Tiger Rotenburger.

Best of all, Presser’s Rudolph, like the original, promises to appeal to all ages.

“This production won’t disappoint,” Brace said, “and I would recommend it for kids ages two and up. There’s so much to see and a lot of action.

The show will last approximately 90 minutes and include a 15-minute intermission.

The Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer show dates are December 3 at 7:00 PM; 7 p.m. on December 4; 2 p.m. on December 5; 7:10 p.m. Dec; 7 p.m. December 11; 2:00 p.m. December 12th. Tickets are selling out quickly, but there are still plenty of good seats. Reserved spaces are: $ 12 adults, $ 6 children 12 and under; premium seats $ 24; adults, $ 12. They are available for purchase at presserpac.com and the Presser Arts Center ticket office, open from November 29 to December 31. 3 from noon to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday. Presser is located at 900 South Jefferson Street in Mexico.

For more information, call 573-581-5592.

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William E. Bennett