A Charlie Brown Christmas stays true to 50-year-old teleplay, with mixed results
By Charles M. Schulz. Based on the television special by Bill Melendez and Lee Mendelson. Stage adaptation by Eric Schaeffer. Directed by Carole Higgins. A Carousel Theatre production. At the Waterfront Theatre on Sunday, November 27. Continues until December 31
This stage adaptation of the 1965 TV special A Charlie Brown Christmas is extremely faithful to its source material. But given that the original defies conventional expectations of plot, conflict, and action, that faithfulness is a mixed blessing.
With the exception of a few added bits (more on that in a moment), Eric Schaeffer’s script appears to be virtually identical to the 50-year-old teleplay, whose relevance hasn’t aged one bit. Charlie Brown is looking for the meaning of Christmas behind all its tacky commercialism, which doesn’t seem to faze his friends or even his dog, Snoopy. On the advice of his psychiatrist, Lucy, Charlie Brown agrees to direct the kids’ Christmas play, but the spirit of the season still proves elusive.
What works: the music, the visuals, and the ensemble scenes. Vince Guaraldi’s jazzy score is the most listenable Christmas music I know. The show starts with the characters “skating” onto the stage in vibrantly coloured winter coats to a bright cascade of piano notes: cue the nostalgia. And when the whole crew dances in the auditorium to “Linus and Lucy”, the infectious bass line and Kayla Dunbar’s goofy choreography offer pure delight.
What doesn’t: the TV special is 25 minutes long, and this show has an hour to fill. The solution is to add a couple of dream-sequence songs in the middle and tack on a long medley of holiday tunes, whose connection to the play is purely seasonal, at the end.
Carole Higgins directs an energetic mix of veterans and newcomers who inhabit the material with varying degrees of success. Rebecca Talbot brings high style to Sally, and Emilie Leclerc is an imperious Lucy. But Andrew Cownden doesn’t find a lot of comedy in Charlie Brown’s haplessness; he’s just kind of there. More problematically, Allan Zinyk’s genius is wasted in the role of Snoopy: the decision to make Snoopy a puppet leaves this gifted actor with far less to do than he’s capable of.
The musicians are solid: music director Steven Greenfield doubles as Schroeder, playing a bright yellow toy piano surrounded, in Al Frisk’s elegant set design, by a curving stone wall. Steve Charles’s Pigpen plays bass, and drummer Nick Fontaine, as Shermy, holds down the rhythm. Barbara Clayden’s costumes pay Technicolor tribute to the two-dimensional versions, and Darren Boquist’s lighting elegantly evokes the snowy season.
There’s enough that works here to satisfy both kids and adults with fond memories of the animated special. But its devotion to the original means that A Charlie Brown Christmas fails to breathe new life into it.