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Friday, June 14, 2024

Theatre review: A Charlie Brown Christmas captures the true meaning of the season

Animated classic comes to life on the Waterfront Theatre stage

Christmas time is here

One of the most enduring and endearing Christmas television specials, A Charlie Brown Christmas gets a live-action makeover from Carousel Theatre for Young People this holiday season.

Happiness and cheer

Following the original animated story, this stage adaptation from Eric Schaeffer has an obvious love for its source material.

Fun for all that children call

My three-year old companion, Dylan, in seeing his first ever live show, enjoyed the singing, the girls and the dog. He did wonder though, why Charlie Brown was so old?

Their favorite time of the year

Andrew Cownden as Charlie Brown captures the lovable loser’s melancholy and Emilie Leclerc is suitably abrasive as Lucy.  As Linus, Hal Wesley Rogers is wise-beyond-his-years while continuing to clutch his blanket, and Kaitlyn Yott and Amanda Testini provide the necessary support as Patty and Violet. Standouts in this sea of talent though are Katey Hoffman as Frieda, and Rebecca Talbot as Sally who bring such fun to these lesser known characters.

Snowflakes in the air

Director Carole Higgins helps ensure these instantly-recognized characters move seamlessly from animation cell to stage, with many moments that honour the cartoon.

Carols everywhere

The show concludes with a medley of Christmas carols, some instantly recognizable and some unknown. While a lovely way to showcase the cast, the poignancy of the main event’s story and lesson does become obscured.

Olden times and ancient rhymes

In a nostalgic nod to the Vince Guaraldi Trio, who recorded the original music for the animated special, Nick Fontaine (drums), Steve Charles (bass), and Steven Greenfield (piano) recreate the iconic jazz score with panache.

Of love and dreams to share

Alan Zinyk brings Snoopy to life in a series of puppets, with “Snoopy’s Christmas” a high-flying highlight, especially when coupled with Katey Hoffman on vocals.

Sleigh bells in the air

Choreographer Kayla Dunbar captures the idiosyncrasies of the animated original with amusing results.

Beauty everywhere

The transformation of Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree is absolutely magical, both technically and emotionally.

Yuletide by the fireside

Al Frisk’s set design and Barbara Clayden’s costumes are whimsical homages to the show’s animated roots.

And joyful memories there

What continues to make A Charlie Brown Christmas, animated or live, a perennial favourite is in the innocent manner in which it combines the religious and the secular. While it does take a swipe at commercialism, the real message comes in the realization that the two can live together.

(On a more personal note, this show was particularly meaningful as it was my three-year old guest’s first live theatre production. I was honoured to have been able to share my love for the theatre, and in hopefully starting his own journey in what I hope will be a life-long love for the performing arts. Joyful memories indeed.)

A Charlie Brown Christmas by Charles M Schulz. Based on the television special by Bill Melendez and Lee Mendelson. Adapted for the stage by Eric Schaeffer. A Carousel Theatre for Young People production. On stage at the Waterfront Theatre on Granville Island until December 31. Visit for tickets and information.

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