If you’re looking for a family-friendly dose of holiday spirit, look no further than Theatre in the Park’s charming production of A Charlie Brown Christmas. Adapted for the stage by Eric Schaeffer, the show is basically the 1965 animated television special, performed live, with all the nostalgic effervescence of the cartoon combined with clever staging and an audience sing-along.
Directed by the legendary Ira David Wood IV, who knows how to tap into the spirit of the holidays, this show exactly captures the televised animated special, right down to the music, pacing, and choreography. I enjoyed a matinee production in a room full of delighted children who got to laugh along with Snoopy and the Peanuts gang as Charlie Brown struggles to find the meaning of Christmas.
Patrick Whalen’s Charlie himself might as well be the patron-saint of motivationally challenged Millennials, with just the right blend of self-doubt and determination. Brett Williams shines as Snoopy, buoyantly expressing the plucky pooch’s myriad moods.
Lori Ingle Taylor is a pitch-perfect Lucy, right down to her dubious life advice, and ear-shattering screeches when she doesn’t get her way. Shane Smith’s blithe Linus provides a blithe counterpart to Charlie’s doldrums, whereas Mark Olexik’s Schroeder communicates strongly despite having basically no dialogue.
Other standouts include Betsy Jones as a perfectly adorable Sally, and Michael Baciagalupo as the most adorable Pig Pen that this reviewer could hope for.
Scenic designers Nathaniel Conti and Lucas Barrick present us with a snowy, sparse background, against which stand a few cardboard cutout trees. Square blocks, cleverly rearranged on stage by the actors, create everything from Snoopy’s dog house to Shroeder’s piano, seamlessly transitioning between scenes while capturing the minimalist style of the original animation style.
Lighting designer Nathaniel Conti’s perfectly placed spotlights and solitary clouds enhance the actor’s performances, while a live three-piece band brings the familiar and timeless music to life right on stage. Last, but definitely not least, the costumes by Denise Schumaker were spot-on perfect.
While staying completely faithful to its material source, A Charlie Brown Christmas at TIP still manages to find a surprising wealth of modern relevance. Director Ira Wood has added a few modern twists — delivered smartly by a selfie-taking Snoopy — that really drive home how timeless the clash of materialism and selfishness can be against the yuletide cheer that is supposed to suffuse this season.
It’s easy to get lost in the hustle and chaos of the holiday season, making Charlie Brown’s struggle to find meaning especially poignant (I find, the older I get, the more poignant it feels) and always relatable. I’m happy to say that at Theatre in the Park, Christmas cheer is as warm and full as the hot chocolate served in the lobby afterwards. Final shows are this weekend; brave the weather and soak up some seasonal cheer. You’ll be glad you did.
Theatre in the Park presents A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS at 11 a.m. and 2 and 5 p.m. Dec. 8 and 3 p.m. Dec. 9 in the Ira David Wood III Pullen Park Theatre, 107 Pullen Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina 27607.
TICKETS: $12, except $10 for TIP Season Members and $10 per ticket for groups of 10 or more.
BOX OFFICE: 919-831-6058 or https://theatreinthepark.secure.force.com/ticket/#details_a0S4100000BQFaTEAX.
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-831-6058 or http://theatreinthepark.com/whatson/group-sales.
SHOW: https://www.theatreinthepark.com/whats-on/a-charlie-brown-christmas-2018.html and https://www.facebook.com/events/274390073268245/.
VIDEO PREVIEW: https://youtu.be/5PuyEPAH07k.
PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.theatreinthepark.com/, https://www.facebook.com/theatreintheparkraleigh, https://twitter.com/TheatreInPark, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theatre_in_the_Park.
NOTE: All shows are wheelchair/walker accessible, and large-print playbills are usually available.
A Charlie Brown Christmas (2013 stage adaptation of 1965 animated television special): https://tamswitmark.com/shows/a-charlie-brown-christmas/ (Tams-Witmark Music Library, Inc.), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Charlie_Brown_Christmas#Stage_adaptation (Wikipedia).
Eric Schaeffer (playwright): https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0769703/ (Internet Movie Database) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_Schaeffer (Wikipedia).
Ira David Wood IV (Raleigh, NC director/performer/playwright and TIP’s assistant artistic director): http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0939505/ (Internet Movie Database), https://www.facebook.com/ira.d.wood (Facebook page), and https://twitter.com/iradavidwoodiv (Twitter page).
Melanie Simmons of Cary, NC is a film and stage actress with a BA degree in Theatre from Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, CA. She also studied dance at San Diego Mesa College and acting with Sande Shurin Acting Studios in New York City and at The Actor’s Workshop in Los Angeles, CA. She has performed locally at the Holly Springs Cultural Center in Holly Springs, Sonorous Road Theatre & Film Studio in Raleigh, and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum in Cary. Click here to read her reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.