Tempe man brings sleigh-guiding hero to life in Childsplay’s ‘Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer’

Tommy Strawser of Tempe plays the lead role in Childsplay’s production of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” through Dec. 24 at Herberger Theater Center in Phoenix.   –Childsplay photo

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By Steve Carr, Special for wranglernews.com

There’s something magical in how a child engages with live theater.

Sitting next to a child at a performance, watch their eyes, their body language and their faces. Their connections to the actors, the story and the staging is palpable.

For Tempe’s Tommy Strawser, that spellbinding bond touched his theatrical soul.

“I started performing for kids during my last year at ASU through Arizona Opera’s Outreach program,” he said. “I hadn’t acted much for young audiences before, but I fell in love with their reactions and attentiveness as they watched the show. So, when I came across a general audition post for Childsplay, I auditioned and the rest is history.”

In the nine seasons he’s been with Childsplay, Strawser, 36, has acted in lead and supporting roles, served as music director for several tours and taught acting classes.

Through Dec. 24, he’s starring as the world’s most-famous sleigh-guiding hero in Childsplay’s musical adaptation of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer at Herberger Theater Center, 222 E. Monroe in Phoenix.

Based on the beloved classic 1960s TV Claymation special, which featured the unmistakable Burl Ives singing the iconic title song, the holiday classic soars off the screen and is filled with season-favorite hits, including “Holly Jolly Christmas” and wonderful characters Santa, Mrs. Claus, Hermey the Elf, Bumble the Abominable Snow Monster, Clarice and Yukon Cornelius.

“I watched the original TV special a long time ago,” Strawser said. “I have always been entranced with Claymation and stop-motion films. As a kid, it was magical the way these inanimate objects came to life. Now, as an adult, I can appreciate the time and artistry that goes into creating these types of films.”

The difference, of course, is this show is live with real people playing the roles, he said.

“We also mix in projected visuals, puppetry and a special treat for the audience I don’t want to give away here,” he said.

Childsplay designed and created their puppets for the show, which is onstage in the Valley for the first time.

Strawser started acting in third grade at his Selinsgrove, Pa., elementary school. He wrote and performed “commercials” for a fourth-grade play. He’s been acting professionally for nearly 15 years after earning a Bachelor of Music degree from West Chester University of Pennsylvania and attending ASU for a Master’s Degree in Music Theatre and Opera Performance.

Following Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, he will be music director for Willy Wonka at Detour Company Theatre, which provides theater training and performance experiences for adults with cognitive and physical disabilities. He’ll then appear in Arizona Opera’s A Little Night Music in March and sing with the Phoenix Chorale.

But his focus now is on that reindeer with the bright red nose, and the takeaway message he hopes to deliver: “Believe in yourself.”

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Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Through Dec. 24, Herberger Theater Center, 222 E. Monroe in Phoenix.

Adapted by Robert Penola with music and lyrics by Johnny Marks and directed by Childsplay. Artistic Director Dwayne Hartford.

More information and tickets, starting at $13, at childplayaz.org.

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