BWW Review: Jodi Benson and Charlie Brown at SF Symphony

San Francisco continues a - hopefully - new tradition this week with "A Charlie Brown Christmas - Live!" This delightful program had its West Coast premiere last season, with first-half vocals from Lisa Vroman and the Symphony Chorus. This week, the concert features "Little Mermaid" voice Jodi Benson, a perfect choice for the production's youthful target audience.

Friday evening, Benson wore a flowBWW Review: Jodi Benson and Charlie Brown at SF Symphonying, sky-blue gown that complimented the seascape tones of her signature "Part of Your World." She later changed into a similar red gown just in time for "Santa Claus is Coming to Town." Benson joined Conductor Randall Craig Fleischer in catering to children in the audience, but their light holiday humor entertained the adults, as well. With numbers like "My Favorite Things," Benson displayed a refreshing, joyful outlook and a jazzy and even operatic vocal ability that goes far beyond her "Little Mermaid" days.

The first half of the concert also highlighted the strong acoustics of Davies Symphony Hall with a brand new "Holiday Bells" arrangement, "Snow" from White Christmas as sung by the Symphony Chorus, and an arrangement of holiday and San Francisco tunes in "Christmas by the Bay." Aside from an underused Benson, however, the real highlight was the second half's short "Charlie Brown Christmas" re-enactment, followed by three quick Christmas carol sing-alongs. While the first half of the concert allows the Symphony to change the song list and guest singer from year to year, "Charlie Brown" remains a staid classic.

BWW Review: Jodi Benson and Charlie Brown at SF SymphonyTo the equally classic music of Vince Guaraldi, buoyant dancers created the story of an unfulfilled Charlie Brown surrounded by his excited friends. The other kids send him to find a tree for their Christmas pageant, but Charlie returns with a small, bare tree (played so adorably by the young Elie Fisher). The children gather around the tree and transform it with their holiday hope and cheer. American Conservatory Theatre's Youth Conservatory Program provides the three young actors - Colin Bires, Charlotte Kearns and Dashiell Ferrero - who help recount the tale. Narrator Zachary Ford watches everything with magical wonder, adding a rich, full tone to David Benoit and Lee Mendelson's "Just Like Me" in an inspiring conclusion.

Portions of the evening felt rushed for a shorter run-time, but the quick pace once again catered to a family-friendly audience. Opportunities to enjoy the cheerful lineup continue through Christmas Eve.

Find a detailed schedule and ticket information at http://www.sfsymphony.org/.

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