A Charlie Brown Christmas, Home Made Theater at the Spa Little Theater, through Dec. 18
A Charlie Brown Christmas, the Charles Schultz animated special many of us grew up watching, is 51 years old this year—but, if the reaction from the children watching Home Made Theater’s version on opening night is any indication, it’s no worse for wear.
Everyone knows this one, right? We have Charlie Brown, that blockhead (Aaron M. Lambert) who’s somehow not in the spirit of the holidays–they’ve become too commercial for his taste—and the supporting characters, the children of the neighborhood: snarky Lucy (Rebeca Rodriguez), dreamy Linus and his blanket (Frank Perilli), lovelorn Sally (Amanda Martini-Hughes), Pig Pen with his hygiene issues (Robin Wissler) and, of course, Charlie Brown’s faithful dog Snoopy (Kristine Hanlon) and Snoopy’s yellow bird sidekick, Woodstock (Francesca Gardner.) Charlie Brown attempts to direct the Christmas pageant, and in order to get everyone in the right mood, picks up a Christmas tree—but of course, in true Charlie Brown style, it’s all wrong. It takes Linus (the least among them) to show them the true meaning of Christmas (to quote another well-loved Christmas cartoon character, this one a bit meaner and greener than the Peanuts gang, “What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”)
The stage adaptation, directed by Laurie Larson, is mostly loyal to the source material, from sets to costumes to the dance the children do while rehearsing their Christmas pageant. Additional material has been added here and there—otherwise, the show would be only half an hour long, and people might not be as apt to pay the ticket price—but it’s in keeping with the spirit of the production.
Lambert’s Charlie Brown was perhaps a little angrier that the cartoon version, but his resemblance to Michael Cera (who did a Charlie Brown bit on Arrested Development) was an inspired bit of casting. Perilli’s Linus was adorable–who doesn’t love a kid who won’t let go of his blanket?—and did an admirable job getting serious in his Biblical scene. Hanlon’s Snoopy was a standout—she had the moves and vocalizations of Schultz’s beloved beagle down to a science.
Adults laughed with recollection as memorable bits came along, but the children in the audience were the ones to keep an eye on this time around. Giggles, gasping, audible “oohs” and “aahs,” one little girl who had the best asides I’ve ever heard in live theater—and the true Christmas miracle was that not a single adult in the audience was bothered. The children’s simple joy in watching the production was infectious. I lost count of the number of times the adults started laughing at a child’s reaction to something on stage.
There are a lot of opportunities to take children to something holiday-oriented this time of year, and if this audience was any indication, this is this season’s very cute—and very cheerful—hot ticket in chilly weather.