CCHS Senior and author of the Charlestown Working Theater's holiday show, Robert May's Rudolph, Nadine Johnson (Photo by Kelly Walters)

CCHS senior returns to childhood stage — to write the play 

By Kelly Walters  Correspondent
December 7, 2023
CCHS Senior and author of the Charlestown Working Theater’s holiday show, Nadine Johnson, with Theater Director Kristin Johnson (Photo courtesy of Nadine Johnson)

Forty-three elementary and middle school-aged children dressed as snowflakes, reindeer, elves and carolers took the stage at the Charlestown Working Theater last weekend to enact the story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer — but with a twist, courtesy of a Concord-Carlisle High School student.  

Senior Nadine Johnson, 18, a longtime theater lover who moved from Charlestown to Concord during the pandemic, wrote the play specifically for the Working Theater, where she’s held roles from actor to stage manager to child mentor since she was 5. 

“Theater is kind of my thing. I keep doing it … and the Working Theater is the first thing I ever did,” Johnson said. “This year I’m a senior, so it’s my last year [at the Working Theater]. I decided I wanted to do something even more special than being the stage manager.” 

Johnson’s unique re-imaging of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer follows the life of Robert May, the retail store employee in Chicago who wrote the story of Rudolph to encourage Christmas shoppers during the Great Depression.  

In Johnson’s adaptation, the recently widowed May struggles to craft a cheerful holiday tale at the behest of his demanding boss, while May’s son, Christopher, is bullied by his classmates at school. Christopher becomes his father’s inspiration for the character of Rudolph — a reindeer ridiculed by his peers for being different — and the two misfits’ stories unfold in parallel.  

Johnson’s script accomplishes a striking array of goals. The young performers play unique characters with speaking or singing parts, giving each one an opportunity to shine. The story teems with playful rhymes, family-friendly humor and musical interludes, incorporating classic Christmas songs like I’ll Be Home for Christmas and, of course, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.  

Cast members of Robert May’s “Rudolph” prepare to take their bows (Photo by Kelly Walters)

“When you have 43 kids and some of them it’s their first time [performing] … how do we make it meaningful for each of those kids? Nadine really has done a good job with that,” Charlestown Working Theater Director Kristin Johnson said.  

She explained she generally adapts or licenses the shows herself to accommodate the theater’s large cast, adding that she “never in a million years expected” that their holiday show would come from an 18-year-old.  

“That’s quite a thing, to adapt a play that you know will be publicly presented … and she did it,” Kristin Johnson said. “It is really great to see how the kids come alive as creative people [and] Nadine is a perfect example of that. She got this creative spark … she wanted to contribute to something that was meaningful to her. I’m just excited to think that this might be a meaningful experience for these kids.” 

nowflakes envelope Santa and his head elf, threatening Christmas during The Charlestown Working Theater’s production of Robert May’s “Rudolph” (Photo by Kelly Walters)

Two final performances of the sold-out show are scheduled for December 9 and 10. Johnson said she plans to continue her involvement with theater arts in college next year but is in no rush to say goodbye to her childhood theater.  

“I kind of see myself in all of [the kids] and I’m just really excited to see them all perform what I made for them,” she said.  

“I think I’m going to be very sad on closing night when I have to take my final bow.”