BWW Interview: Steven Reineke Talks A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS with NY Pops, NY Theatre Ballet and TADA! Youth Theater
Steven Reineke, Music Director of The New York Pops, is hoping to bring the true meaning of Christmas to Carnegie Hall this Saturday with a brand new family concert version of A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS, based on the beloved TV special by Charles M. Schulz.
With help from a slew of performers from all over New York City and input from the TV special's executive producer Lee Mendelson, this Peanuts concert has the makings of a new holiday tradition.
Reineke recently spoke with BWW about adapting A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS for the stage and the collaborative power behind it.
How are rehearsals going?
Things are in great shape. All the music is all ready to go for A Charlie Brown Christmas, and we're very excited about it. It's a neat collaboration and it's also a one-of-a-kind. Nobody's ever done this performance before. It's something specifically that we're creating between The New York Pops and New York Theatre Ballet, as well as some actors from the TADA! Youth Theater.
I didn't think that I'd seen a staged concert version of the TV special before. Can you talk a little bit about some of the similarities and the differences between the two?
We're trying to tell the story that everybody knows from so long ago. This is such an iconic, classic Christmas tale that many of us grew up on. And it was the first of the Charlie Brown specials, and it aired 19 years ago back in 1965, and it's been going every year since. So we stay very true to the intent of the animated cartoon. But one main difference is that we've added a song. Something that was written after-the-fact by Lee Mendelson, who was the executive producer of A Charlie Brown Christmas. He wrote a song called "Just Like Me" that Charlie Brown is going to sing, and it points out the similarities between Charlie Brown and his sad, little tree and also how beautiful the tree can be. It's really a sweet, charming song.
How does it work with wrangling all the different performers and elements?
We started many, many months ago crafting the script and the flow that we wanted to do and what musical selections we wanted to do and timing them out to involve all of these portions. And the choreographer and director of the New York Theatre Ballet have been huge helps in all of this. They just have such wonderfully creative minds. And they've done an awful lot to envision what this would look like on the stage.
What about working with the TADA kids?
We did go through a lengthy process auditioning kids, and we came up with three of them that are just top notch. And many of them have some other professional experience. Like one of the young boys was in Lion King, another one's done a lot of commercial voice-over work and cartoon work. These kids are real pros -- at a very young age, they're already pretty seasoned. And they're just terrific; they totally understand it. It's funny because some of them sort of knew about A Charlie Brown Christmas but weren't as familiar with it as people of a certain age are. So it's fun for them to really delve into it. We have a Charlie Brown, a Linus and a Lucy. And then we also have our narrator -- the guy that really is going to help us move the story along -- John Tartaglia.
I was actually just going to ask you about John. What's it like working with him again?
Well, John is terrific. He's done a few things with me and the New York Pops at Carnegie Hall already. He's appeared on our galas before. Most notably, though, he collaborated with us and was a huge impetus to help us create our tribute to Jim Henson that we did at Carnegie Hall with all of the Muppets. We combined all of the Muppets, Sesame Street and Fraggle Rock all on one stage. And John was our host and MC for that night as well, which was just loads and loads of fun. So I'm really happy to be back with John. He's become one of my good friends, and he's such a great entertainer and performer. And he's just perfect for this project.