Whether you’re 3 or 83, it’s likely you have seen the holiday classic, A Charlie Brown Christmas on TV at least once in your life, as the Christmas special has been a ratings bonanza ever since it first aired back in 1965.
The viewer’s familiarity with the show could have been either a blessing or a curse for NextStop Theatre Company’s current live staging of the animated special. On one hand, people know the story so well, that they come in already enamored with Snoopy, Linus and Charlie Brown’s “little tree.” On the other hand, their passion for the story is so strong that any little changes from the script could have been seen as blasphemous.
Director Jennifer Lambert wisely chose to follow an almost line-for-line re-creation and the extraordinary cast of child actors make the staged version of A Charlie Brown Christmas truly feel like these characters have popped out of your TV screen.
The musical opens similarly to the TV special. Charlie Brown and Linus are talking about the Christmas season while the rest of the Peanuts gang sing and ice skate, enjoying the winter weather (props to scenic designers Evan Hoffman and Jon Harvey for devising a turntable to make the characters seem to really be gliding on ice!)
Owen Gaskill is a delight as Charlie Brown, capturing all the sorrow and despair that the “Blockhead” feels early on and the inner fire that propels him to make the unpopular decision to choose a tree that he feels represents Christmas the best. Gaskill gets both sympathy and laughs, just as Charles Schulz’ own animated alter ego does in the television special.
Alexandra Harbourt is a young actress the theater world is going to need to pay attention to. The fifth grader already has more than a dozen productions under her belt and she absolutely dazzles as Lucy. Harbour brings out all the feistiness that Lucy requires, and has great chemistry working with Gaskill and as a love foil to Timmy Swicord’s Schroeder. One of the best scenes of the show is when Lucy gives advice to Charlie Brown at her makeshift psychiatrist stand, Harbour hitting every nuance to perfection.
Everyone knows that one of the highlights of the special is Linus’ long tale from the Bible about the true meaning of Christmas, and Kieran Romano does an impressive job delivering the heartwarming speech. Romano’s Linus is shy, yet strong, and really captures his animated counterpart wonderfully.
Hudson Osbourne may not have any “real” lines as Snoopy, but he “moos and ahhs” humorously and his physical comedy is a treat. Abbey Whitestone is sassy as Frieda, aka the girl with naturally curly hair, and Claire Johnson adorable as Sally—even when asking Santa for “tens and twenties!”
A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS
Closes December 21, 2014
1 hour, 10 minutes, no intermission
The production is sold out
Truthfully, there’s not a weak kid in the bunch, as the ensemble dances in those all-too-familiar Peanuts crazy movements and sing in beautiful harmony. One change from the special is a guest appearance by another beloved Peanuts character not in the original—played by young Miles Hoffman—but audiences won’t mind.
The only questionable aspect of the show was the decision not to have Gaskill wear a more Charlie Brown-esque baldish wig. I heard muttering among some of the younger audience members about this. Costume designer Kristina Martin did a superb job with the rest of the characters’ looks, however.
Let’s face it, kids can bring a childlike understanding to the holidays that adults just can’t bring and this musical captures the true spirit of Christmas as well as any holiday production.
— There are two separate casts for the production. This review is based on the Peace cast. —
A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS
Closes Dec 21
Yvonne French . DCMetroTheaterArts a simple, nostalgic, heartwarming pleasure just in time for the holidays.