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BWW Review: A Heartfelt, Nostalgic A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS

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Emerald City's holiday production of A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS is a treat for young and old alike.

As television holiday classics go, you can't get much better than "A Charlie Brown Christmas" and Eric Schaeffer's stage adaptation offers up a sweet and touching, live action version that that is itself an instant holiday classic.

The plot, in which a depressed but loveable blockhead Charlie Brown tries to rekindle his passion for the true meaning of Christmas amidst the crass, over-commericalization of the holiday, seems to be even more subversive that it did when the show originally aired. For there are few amongst us who would argue that things haven't gotten worse, what with stores (and, let's face it, certain other suburban theaters) switching into the Christmas season before the first trick-or-treater has rung their first bell.

But that's coming from a jaded (and very much adult) theater reviewer. For a children's perspective, joining me in my review duties were Sydney (age 10) and Peyton (age 5). Both girls thouroughly enjoyed themselves and the running time (about an hour) was the perfect amount of time; the production held everyone's attention for the full duration.

As Charlie Brown, I thought David Wesley Mitchell gave a smartly nuanced performance in which you couldn't help but love the loveable loser.As adults, I guess we all sometimes feel just like Charlie Brown.

Pig Pen (a charming Jeff Kurysz) earned the highest praise from Sydney and Peyton for his ability to act, play the drums and --in a bit of stage magic-- create a cloud of dust at will.

Kurysz was part of a musical trio that included Alex Benjamin as the piano keys-tickling Schroeder and Elizabeth Sandej-Schmidt on a rocking upright bass as Peppermint Patty. The trio kept the show musically humming and, thanks to Vince Guaraldi's iconic score, should hopefully introduce yet another American generation tothe joy of jazz music.

My co-reviewers also felt Jamie Finkenthal deserved a shout out for her portrayal of the self-confident and assertive Lucy. Also liked was Mary Margaret Roberts as Charlie Brown's funny, over-enthusiastic and materialistic little sis Sally.

Denzel Love's delivery of Linus' classic monologue about the biblical meaning of Christmas elicited a smathering of applause from the adults, but Linus has always been the kind of "old soul" character that resonnates more with adults anyway.

We all agreed that Isabella Karina Coelha and Micah Kronlokken brought much energy and magic to their shared roles of puppeteers of Snoopy and Woodstock. Their fine work brought both characters to life.

For adults, Sherman (Ehan Warren) starts the play off with a bit of nostolgia as he dances around the living room and turns the knob on a black and white TV that shows brief glimpses of other holiday favorities from years ago.

I certain can recall as a child being giddy with excitement when "A Charlie Brown Christmas" came on TV. In the age before remote controls, high-definition color TVs and Blu-Ray disks, you either caught a show when it was on or you waited until the next year.

And that is sort of what live theater is, if you think about it. Families should see this show while they can. After all, it's a long time until A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS returns.

Emerald City Theatre's production of A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS runts though Jan. 3 at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, 175 E. Chestnut. Tickets $26-$35. 800-755-2000. www.broadwayinchicago.com


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