Review: A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS is a Warm Holiday Tonic

Now on stage at Theatre 29

By: Dec. 07, 2023
Review: A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS is a Warm Holiday Tonic

What is your favorite winter holiday time ritual?  While there are many yuletide customs celebrated around the world (enhanced by religious practice, cultural convention or idiosyncratic family regimes), for the better part of the last sixty years such routines have also included seasonal holiday entertainment. Every year broadcast television trots out the old holiday favorites on repeat: Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman and A Charlie Brown Christmas.  The latter of these warm and fuzzy animated classics has been fleshed out in a stage adaptation, now playing to appreciative audiences at Theatre 29.  The 1965 TV special, the first of many featuring the characters of Charles M Schultz’s Peanuts comic strip was an unlikely cultural zeitgeist.  The animation, even to 1960’s standards, was fairly rudimentary, the voice performances were stilted and the soundtrack was…Christmas jazz?  Nonetheless, the story’s heart and the already iconic characters got through to audiences young and old when it aired on December 9, 1965 on CBS in the coveted 7:30PM prime-time slot (thanks to sponsor Coca-Cola) and became a phenomenon that is still going strong fifty-eight years later.

Review: A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS is a Warm Holiday Tonic

Director Katie Fleischman has assembled a cast of theatre veterans and fresh new faces for this adaptation.  The staging is simple, in keeping with the comic strip inspiration.  As the Artistic and Musical Director as well as Choreographer, Mrs. Fleischman had her hands full. From ice skating kids on a frozen pond, to assembling in a room to “rehearse” a Christmas play to a burgeoning Christmas Tree lot, the Schultz universe was well laid out for the actors to inhabit.  The vocals were solid if sparce, this incarnation only includes two sung musical numbers, with the bulk of composer Vincent Guaraldi’s score played as underscored orchestration.  The madcap abandon of the Peanuts kids “dancing” was very reminiscent of the original animation creation.  Nostalgia abounds with this production.

Everyone’s favorite loser, Charlie Brown, is depressed.  The whole Christmas “thing” is just beyond him, what is the point?  Played here with world-weary aplomb by Theatre 29 veteran John Pollnow, this Charlie Brown is game for anything, even if he is clueless in how or why. Bossy mogul-in-training, Lucy, here portrayed by Britney Vachon-LaGuardia, is a diva-extraordinaire. As the center of everyone’s attention, whether that attention is good or bad tends to be immaterial. Ms. Vachon-LaGuardia’s character knows no stops, but in true Lucy fashion, you don’t hate her for it. Sagacious Linus, here played by Adonai Patu, is wise beyond his years.  A force for good that doesn’t try to force anything on you, Mr. Patu approaches the character with self-assuredness and ease.  Maestro Schroeder, here portrayed by Paphilius “Tom” Patu, is an artisan at heart and suffers no slights to his musicality. In this charming portrayal, his scene with Lucy about the “music” for the Christmas play was fun and funny. In leaving the best for last, we come to the ever faithful (?) dog Snoopy, played by Carly Bateman.  A free spirit, this fancy-free pooch is irrepressible.  Whether watching her decorate her dog house (kudos to Set Designer Steve Lomax on this page perfect replica!), seeing her skate on a frozen pond (on roller skates no less) or taunting Lucy at every opportunity, Ms. Bateman proves that lines do not designate the strength of a performance.  She doesn’t utter one word, but she dominates every scene she is in.  The rest of the ensemble, dusty Pig Pen (Samantha Stevens), hair obsessed Frieda (Chloe Adams), incredulous Sally (Tiffany Crocker),  happy Violet (Belen Patino), boisterous Patty (Wendy Cohen), disappointed Shermy (Julius Dean) and the rest of the gang (Constance Large, David Flores, MaryAm Langdon, Nailah Morales & Tyler Bateman) filled in the rest of the Schultz-verse with commitment and enjoyment.

Review: A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS is a Warm Holiday Tonic

The play itself is a rather short work, about 40 minutes.  Considering the original run time of the TV special was only 30 minutes, they stayed true to the source material, with some additional fleshing out of characters.  The second half of the presentation contained holiday music, first led by local vocal legend Robin Wilson in a lead off to the show.  Always charismatic and down-to-earth, Ms. Wilson got the audience primed with about a half dozen renditions of Christmas classics from “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” to “All I Want For Christmas Is You”.  The intermission took place after Ms. Wilson’s songs, rather abruptly (to the confusion of some audience members).  An announcement the intermission would take place would have alleviated that.  However, loads of Hot Chocolate awaited patrons, so all was forgiven rather quickly.  The play itself encompassed the second act, followed by the cast leading the audience in singing a number of Christmas carols, the lyrics for which were tucked into the program.

For those seeking a smorgasbord of holiday vibes and nostalgic feel-goods, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is just the hot mug of cocoa with whipped cream you are after. "A Charlie Brown Christmas: Live on Stage” will run two more weekends through December 17 with Friday and Saturday shows at 7:00 pm and Sunday matinees at 2:30 pm. Tickets are $15.00 for regular admission, $12.50 for Seniors and Military, and $10.00 for children under 12 and students with ID, (a service charge is added). Tickets are available at www.theatre29.org or by calling the Theatre 29 Box Office at 760-361-4151. 




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