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    Stage Review

    ‘Rudolph the Red Necked Reindeer,’ a classic with a twist

    Olive Another as Herbie (left) and Jesse James Wood as the title character in “Rudolph the Red Necked Reindeer.”
    Michael von Redlich
    Olive Another as Herbie (left) and Jesse James Wood as the title character in “Rudolph the Red Necked Reindeer.”

    Even to a kid, there was always something a little weird about “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’’ when it showed up on our TV screens every year around Christmastime.

    The clunky Rankin/Bass stop-motion animation, which seemed low-rent and old-fashioned even in the mid-1960s. The sweatshop conditions of Santa’s workshop, with that fascistic head elf hollering at poor little Hermey, who wanted only to heed the siren song of . . . the dental profession. The Island of Misfit Toys that seemed more like a Village of the Damned.

    So in creating a musical parody called “Rudolph the Red Necked Reindeer,’’ Ryan Landry had to out-weird the original — seldom a problem for Landry, who is quite an original himself, or for his intrepid troupe, the Gold Dust Orphans.


    But “Rudolph,’’ now at Machine under the direction of James P. Byrne, takes a while to hit its stride. The first half of the show is less inspired than the Landry norm. Sure, it’s amusing to see Santa Claus (Tim Lawton) taking hits from a bong and gunning down squirrels while the Christmas-hating Mrs. Claus (Penny Champayne) swans about in a tight-fitting gold jumpsuit, looking like a refugee from “The Real Housewives of Miami,’’ her massive blond mane somehow never moving no matter how much Mrs. Claus does.

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    But it’s really not until Liza Lott storms across the stage as a lisping and hilariously unhinged Drew Barrymore that “Rudolph’’ shifts into high gear and delivers the raunchy kicks for which Landry and the Orphans are justly famed. Riding a sleigh pulled by six little E.T.’s, and bedeviled by the pressures of fame, Drew is feeling insecure about her age and her weight, and she proves willing to go to extremes to lose a few pounds.

    The title character is portrayed by a bare-chested Jesse James Wood, who wears a green John Deere cap and torn jeans with a meteor-size belt buckle, speaks with an exaggerated Southern drawl, and is, alas, not much of a singer. Rudolph is marked by a pronouncedly red neck — you would even say it glows — that horrifies his upper-crust parents, Thurston (Gene Dante) and Lovie Howell (a pearl-clutching Landry).

    Ever-eclectic in his pop-culture spoofery, Landry works in elements not just from “Gilligan’s Island’’ and “E.T.’’ but also “The Silence of the Lambs’’: One of the inhabitants of his Island of Dangerous Toys wears a Hannibal Lecter mask. Landry seizes opportunities along the way to take a shot at Taylor Swift and pay tribute to the late, great Paul Lynde. The show is narrated by a rotund snowperson named Sharon (formerly known as Frosty, but he had a sex change), who is played by Keith Orr, seated offstage to the audience’s left. Orr gamely battled through a case of laryngitis on opening night.

    While Rudolph’s neck is red, his heart is pure. To conceal his embarrassing affliction, he wears a cumbersome brace, but his charms are nonetheless sufficient to attract the amorous attention of the fetching Clarice (Grace Carney). Meanwhile, back at Santa’s workshop, winsome young Herbie (Olive Another, excellent) finds it hard to concentrate on his toy-making duties. He yearns for another career, which he confides to the audience in song: “All I Wanna Be Is a Proctologist.’’ Hey, what’s life without a dream?


    It goes without saying that these two misfits will eventually team up to confront the Christmas-menacing Abominable Icicle Snow Monster Lady, represented as a mammoth, saw-toothed puppet figure. To veterans of the Gold Dust Orphans, it also goes without saying that costume designer Scott Martino works wonders within what is presumably not a voluminous budget, whether he is clothing monsters, humans, reindeer, or those genuinely creepy, zombie-like denizens of the Island of Dangerous Toys. Rankin and Bass might approve.

    Nah, probably not.

    Don Aucoin can be reached at