All photos by Doug Catiller, True Image Studio
Written by Alina Mae Wilson
A Charlie Brown Christmas is now playing over at the Chance Theater in Anaheim. Even though I’m not a big Peanuts fan, halfway through this 45-minute show, I found myself a little charmed and even somewhat invested in the story. Add in the smiling faces of the children in the audience and I consider this a worthy holiday treat for young ones and avid fans of the franchise.
Verbose, eight-year-old Charlie Brown and his equally loquacious gang of neighborhood buddies are preparing for Christmas. Everyone is feeling the holiday spirit except poor Charlie Brown, who can’t seem to do anything right. In a last-ditch attempt to get into the season and be successful at something, Charlie Brown agrees to direct the children’s Christmas play. What unfolds is a simple and sensitive story about Charlie Brown’s search for the meaning of Christmas.
The set was a near-perfect replication of the original, animation special of the same name. A majority of the set pieces were easily carried around by cast members to create scene changes and set the tone for the story. The actors picking up and carrying the set around contributed to the mood of “children creating something for the holidays.” Unfortunately, that was pretty much the only thing that evoked a sense of true childhood nostalgia.
Clearly director James McHale has seen Peanuts and wanted to make the show as similar as possible to the cartoon. This means the actors try their best to mimic the style of the characters. However, they aren’t cartoon characters; they’re real-life human beings. I’ve seen adult actors portray kids before, and it can be done very well. In this instance, though, watching the actors doing their little “armless jog” waddles made me think more of the Nicelanders from Wreck-It Ralph than actual kids.
They want us to watch the play and think of the cartoon, but the cartoon made it clear that we were watching kids.
If the play at the Chance was your first experience with Charlie Brown, you may not necessarily understand that this is meant to be about children. Then again, the characters in the cartoon don’t actually talk like children. What’s important is the overall spirit and general feeling you get when watching it. Watching A Charlie Brown Christmas at the theater I felt pity for Charlie Brown (at what I imagine were the appropriate moments to do so) and touched when we found out the reason for the season. After a while, I even became interested in what was going to happen at the end.
All of the actors give sincerely invested performances. Special mention of the night goes to actors Juston Gonzalex-Rodholm (Linus) and Nathan Shube (Pig Pen). Gonzalez-Rodholm gave a sweetly performed monologue at the end, and Shube was adorable with his cheerful confidence in himself and his dust. The performers worked hard to engage the children in the audience, and they generally succeed. There was a lot of laughing and giggling when Snoopy came onstage (played by Dimithri Perera), and at the end of the show the children have the chance to talk with and take photos with the cast. I saw nothing but happy faces.
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