Dallas — The Dallas Children’s Theater is a perfect arena for a prize-worthy production of A Charlie Brown Christmas. It fills the space with merriment and warmth. Based on Charles M. Schulz’s popular comic strip, Peanuts, this is a story about the commercialization of Christmas as told through a boy that is struggling to feel excitement over the holiday.
It seems like just a few years ago that Schulz’s comic strip was transformed into a television special on ABC but it was actually more than 50 years ago: Dec. 9, 1965. A Charlie Brown Christmas has since become the second-longest running televised Christmas special behind Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. This now holiday staple, created by Bill Melendez and Lee Mendelson, came very close to not happening because TV executives feared it was too cynical and different to appeal to audiences.
Their concern intensified when they heard that jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi composed the score, breaking with the tradition of using centuries-old carols. They need not have worried. Audiences fell in love with the story and with the music. The recording is now included in the Grammy Hall of Fame, and is also considered by the Library of Congress to be one of the most culturally and aesthetically important sound recordings of all time. Eric Schaeffer completed the stage adaptation of the television script in 2013.
The DCT cast of the familiar and well-loved Peanuts comic strip characters are: Charlie Brown (Christopher Curtis), Lucy (Brett Warner), Snoopy (Steph Garrett), Linus (Scott Zenreich), Freida (Jori Jackson), Sally (Sarah Faye Beard), Schroeder (Johnny Lee), Violet (Rachel Clo), Pig Pen (Zachary Pletcher) and Shermy (William Carleton).
Without exception this cast brings a lot of genuine enthusiasm to their roles. They sync together well, but are also clearly have fun, and that is contagious. Garrett’s Snoopy probably edges out everyone else in adorableness. That having been said, the entire ensemble has an irresistibility that lasts long after the performance has ended.
Charlie Brown talks with Linus about his inability to get excited about Christmas. His mailbox is always empty because no one sends him cards. Everyone else seems to be happy, dancing and skating and generally enjoying the season. To help snap him out of his depressed mood, Lucy convinces Charlie Brown to direct a play. He accepts but soon becomes exasperated when his friends want to play around rather than rehearse. As a break from the tension, he goes off in search of a tree for the show. It is through this excursion that Charlie Brown has an ‘a-Ha’ moment and a break in his malaise.
In a show that must appeal to the wee audience members, visual elements are of extreme importance. Visually this production is like a candy store of colors thanks to Lyle Huchton’s costumes, which refer to the comic strip without copying them. The show opens with falling snow (projections by H. Bart McGeehon) and actors on skates. Director Doug Miller’s vision extends the playing area beyond the stage, with actors skating the walkway separating the mezzanine and orchestra and pulling the audience more tightly into the experience. Adam C. Wright’s combo is onstage. The sound design (Marco Salinas) is excellent, evenly balancing the actors’ voices and the combo.
When asked for three words to describe this show, Miller said "nostalgic, relevant, and entertaining." It is certainly those things and joyful. The runtime for this production is about an hour which makes it more easily manageable for the young’uns, leaving time for a visit with Santa in the lobby.