Review: Rudolph the Red-Hosed Reindeer (Hell in a Handbag Productions, 2017)

| December 4, 2017

Graham Thomas Heacock, Michael Rawls, Colin Funk, Christea Parent, Josh Kemper, Chase Wheaton-Werle,           

Rudolph the
    Red-Hosed Reindeer

Written by David Cerda 
at Mary’s Attic, 5400 N. Clark (map)
thru Dec 30  |  tix: $25-$30  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets   


Fun holiday fare for Chicago misfits


Allison Petrillo, Chase Wheaton-Werle, Michael Rawls, Terry McCarthy, Colin Funk and Sydney Genco

Hell in a Handbag Productions presents
Rudolph the Red-Hosed Reindeer

Review by Lauren Whalen

Hell in a Handbag Productions has staged Rudolph the Red-Hosed Reindeer for over two decades now. Since its initial reading in 1996, Handbag Artistic Director David Cerda has revised his irreverent original musical to keep with current events. But when do the jokes get too easy and as a result, too lazy? This year’s Rudolph was my first, so I have Kristopher Bottrall, Lori Lee and Graham Thomas Heacock star in Rudolph the Red-Hosed Reindeernothing to compare it to, but centering the plot on a Trump-like Santa Claus feels like low-hanging fruit, even for a production that revels in tacky campiness. Blistering social commentary isn’t necessary for a Rankin Bass parody, but many of Rudolph’s jokes are so obvious, they detract from the show’s entertainment value.

Based on the 1967 children’s TV special, Rudolph chronicles the adventures of a North Pole reindeer (Graham Thomas Heacock) who just doesn’t fit in with his peers. Despite the guidance of his overbearing but loving parents (Chase Wheaton-Werle and Allison Petrillo), Rudolph can’t seem to conform to traditional masculine ideals, favoring instead bright red accessories and Chanel scarves. Eventually, Rudolph finds himself on the Island of Misfit Toys, but even a Charlie-in-the-Box won’t fully welcome him. Can Rudolph and his pal Herbie (Kristopher Bottrall), a gay elf who just wants to be a dentist, save Christmas from the clutches of evil politician Santa Claus (Michael Jack Hampton)?

Kristopher Bottrall, Colin Funk, Sydney Genco and Michael Rawls star in Rudolph the Red-Hosed ReindeeMatthew Sergot, Tommy Bullington, Colin Funk, David Cerda and Michael Hampton star in Rudolph RedHose

Hell in a Handbag is Cerda’s brainchild, and he’s hilarious as always, playing everyone from Santa’s new trophy wife to the mythical Dragbeast with characteristic glittery wit. And this year’s Rudolph has many funny moments: the ousted Mrs. Claus (Tommy Bullington) has turned to the bottle to cope; Misfit Toy Dolly (Petrillo) has a lot to say about her new home; and Sam the Snowman (Matt Sergot) presides over the action with a dirty, funny quip for everyone. Lauren Griffith’s choreography is intricate and energetic, with beautifully staged group numbers that maximize Mary’s Attic’s small performance space. Sydney Genco (who also plays workshop upper-management Elvina) does a tremendous job with the cast’s makeup, incorporating various styles with aplomb, and production stage manager Andrew C. Donnelly holds it all together. Standout performances include Petrillo, whose dual role as Rudolph’s repressed conservative mother and the libertine toy Dolly are top-notch; dancer Michael Rawls, whose smooth moves and sassy facials are a welcome combination; and Bullington, adept at drag and killer comic timing as the lovable lush Mrs. Claus.

Colin Funk, Sydney Genco and Michael Rawls star in Rudolph the Red-Hosed Reindeer

Rudolph’s script is where it all falls down. At this point in Trump’s horrific year in the White House, many jokes about him are becoming old hat. Bits centering on the Presidential election, third-party candidates and embarrassing onscreen conduct would have felt fresher a year ago, and anything with reality TV feels more dated than not these days. As with some Handbag productions, Rudolph feels about 15 minutes too long and tends to drag toward the end of the second act. To be fair, Trump’s Presidency has resulted in an ever-changing and increasingly horrifying news cycle, and his antics will always be ripe for parody. If Rudolph’s humor had felt just a bit more fresh, and a lot less obvious, Handbag’s Christmas offering would definitely be a resounding success.

Rating: ★★½

Rudolph the Red-Hosed Reindeer continues through December 30th at Mary’s Attic, 5400 N. Clark (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays 6pm.  Tickets are $25 in advance, $30 at the door, and are available by phone (800-838-3006) or online through (check for availability of half-price tickets). VIP tickets with cocktail are $40 and up. More information at time: 1 hour 45 minutes, includes an intermission)

Graham Thomas Heacock, Michael Rawls, Colin Funk, Christea Parent, Josh Kemper, Chase Wheaton-Werle,

Photos by Rick Aguilar Studios 




Kristopher Bottrall (Herbie), Tommy Bullington (Mrs. Claus), David Cerda (Iwanka, Gladys Dasher, Gloria Allred, Dragbeast), Colin Funk (Spike, Fireball, Toy), Sydney Genco (Elfina, Toy), Michael Jack Hampton (Santa Claus), Graham Thomas Heacock (Rudolph), Josh Kemper (Comet, Moon Racer), Lori Lee (Yukon Cornelia), Terry McCarthy (Connie Blitzen, Toy), Christea Parent (Clarice), Allison Petrillo (Jane Donner, Dolly), Michael Rawls (Score, Toy), Matt Sergot (Sam, the Snowman), Chase Wheaton-Werle (Tom Donner, Charlie-in-the-Box)

Understudies: Val Garcia (Tom, Charlie, Comet, KMR, Sam), Amy Gray (Gladys, Toy, Connie, Yukon), Shiv Mann (Spike, Score, Fireball, Toy), Travis Monroe Neese (Santa, Mrs. Claus), Madison Piner (Jane, Dolly, Toy, Clarice)

behind the scenes

AJ Wright (co-director, producer), Becca Holloway (co-director), JD Caudill (music director), Andrew C. Donnelly (production stage manager), Lauren Griffith (choreographer), Kate Setzer Kamphausen (costume design), Roger Wykes (scenic design), Ralph Loza (sound design), Cat Wilson (light design), Keith Ryan (wig design), Sydney Genco (makeup design), Adrian Hadlock (prop design), Michael S. Miller (art director, graphic designer), Caitlin Jackson (program design), Rick Aguilar Studios (photography), David Cerda (artistic director, executive producer, playwright), Scott Lamberty (arrangement, music)

Graham Thomas Heacock, Tommy Bullington and Kristopher Bottrall star in Rudolph the Red-Hosed ReindeeLori Lee stars in Rudolph the Red-Hosed Reindeer, Hell in a Handbag ProductionsKristopher Bottrall, Lori Lee and Graham Thomas Heacock star in Rudolph the Red-Hosed Reindeer


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Category: 2017 Reviews, Hell in a Handbag, Holiday Show, Lauren Whalen, Mary's Attic

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