As December approaches, theaters across the country scramble to get their holiday programming together and ready for audiences. From classics like "The Nutcracker" and "A Christmas Carol," to orchestral and choral performances, there's an event out there for anyone looking to spread some holiday cheer. This holiday season, the Moorestown Theater Company (MTC) in Burlington County will present "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Jr." and the acclaimed youth theater organization will do it all with a cast of elementary and middle school students — as well as a few ninth graders.
Founded in 2003 by Beverly Bennett, Mark Morgan and Carol Ann Murray, MTC has become one of the premier educational youth theater companies in New Jersey. Producing an average of 15 shows per year spanning all age groups "Rudolph" falls under their annual holiday stage series, and Morgan, the founding producing artistic director, shared his excitement to put on a work that his company had not previously showcased.
"We are the first community theater in South Jersey to do ‘Rudolph,’" Morgan said. "So it's kind of cool to be bringing these shows to new audiences. It’s a classic Christmas musical with all the great songs you know…everything you see in the TV animated show is in the junior version."
Directing the show is William Reid, who will be marking his fifth directorial credit at the MTC with "Rudolph." As the director, Reid must ensure that the show is coming together. But as an educator as well, Reid makes sure his students are learning as much as possible. He stated how much he has seen them grow since they started rehearsing over two months ago and cannot wait for the end result.
"Some of them [the students] it's been like a year they've been with the company, and they've been in lots of shows since then so that's exciting for me as an educator," Reid said.
As the rehearsal process progresses into tech week and performances, Reid also revealed what he was looking forward to as the finished product finally hits the stage. He knows that all the hard work he, and especially his students, have put into this show will pay off and he cannot wait for audiences to see it.
"What I'm excited for specifically with this show is going to be trying to piece it together," Reid said. "(It’s thinking) ‘What is that classic story that everybody knows and really loves?’ There's a few like theatrical twists, some added songs and everything. I'm excited."
With MTC producing so many shows on a yearly basis, it is not surprising that the company has recently received a few major awards from state and national organizations. In 2022, they received the Outstanding Community Theater of the Year award from the New Jersey Association of Community Theaters. They also recently won an award from the Association of Fundraising Professionals for their work on The Penguin Project, an inclusive theater program for those with disabilities. Recently, MTC moved all their productions into a new home at a local church. Morgan is proud of all his company’s recent achievements and hopes they translate into "Rudolph" and beyond.
"We keep things fresh by always trying to do new shows and things that haven't been done, or ones we haven't done in a long time," Morgan said. "And it's that outside of the box thinking that we constantly do here at MTC."
One of the other things that sets MTC apart from local theater companies is directors like Reid who incorporate advanced elements of theatre into productions. For example, for "Rudolph," Reid is teaching his actors fight choreography, something that is not even attempted in some high schools. By following Morgan’s "out-of-the-box thinking" approach, Reid believes he is giving these students the best possible experience both educationally and for fun.
"I’ve had my friend who is a fight choreographer come in and teach the kids some scenes," Reid said. "That's not stuff they always get to do in most shows they do. [For instance], fight scenes [must] always be choreographed in a way that is [how] the professionals would do it. So that was really exciting to me."
When the production opens, there will be only one thing that measures the level of its success, and that is if the participants are happy. Reid said that seeing those smiling faces is one of the most rewarding parts of his career as a theater educator.
"The biggest way to success is if the kids are happy and having a good time," Reid said. "Because you know they're always going to have their parents and friends and family come out to see them, so the crowd is going to love it no matter what they do because they're really great kids. But having worked with them, I've been with them in situations and shows where I'm like, ‘Oh no, we're not having a good time.’ Or ‘Oh, that was a bit of a rough run.’ So, I can see that they're having fun and that they are using that energy and their performance to fuel their characters. And just leaving it all out there on the stage. That's what's going to let me know that yeah, this was super successful."
The First United Methodist Church in Moorestown, NJ.
"Rudolph" at MTC will be directed by William Reid. The play is produced by Mark Morgan and Carol Ann Murray with Annette De Rosa as the associate producer. Leah Greski is the vocal director, with choreography by Brielle Oliveri and guest fight choreography by Ashlan Petrillo. “Rudolph” features costume designs by Thom Sirkot, technical direction by Jack Morgan and stage management by John Wells.
Performances for "Rudolph" are Dec. 2 at 3 p.m., Dec. 3 at 4 p.m., Dec. 8 at 7 p.m., Dec. 9 at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. and Dec. 10 at 2 p.m. They will be held at the First United Methodist Church, 446 East Camden Ave., Moorestown. Tickets are available on their website or at the door.
Moorestown | December 2-10, 2023