Expanding on the Charlie Brown universe it originally created back in 2016, Carousel Theatre for Young People has paired a remount of A Charlie Brown Christmas with a new production of You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown.
In the first half of the show, the Peanuts gang become a real-life comic strip in a series of vignettes and songs. From Charlie Brown’s high-flying disaster with a kite-eating tree, to Lucy opening up her psychiatric booth, these and many other iconic moments from cartoonist Charles M. Schulz come to life among a dozen or so songs from Clark Gesner.
Immediately recognizable for those who grew up with the comic strip, You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown tugs at the nostalgic heart. For those who may not have that sentimental connection though, there is an optimism to the proceedings that is infectious and in these sometimes troubling times it is a welcome respite. It may not be profound, but it sure feels good.
In the second half, the iconic television show A Charlie Brown Christmas comes to life on stage. Having an obvious love for its source material, its biggest strength comes from the easy-going way in which it manages to combine the religious with the secular.
For the younger ones in the audience – for the record, I brought five-year old Dylan (see his mini-review under his photo left) with me – there is enough to keep them occupied and engaged.
With many of the cast back from Carousel’s 2016 production, there may be a familiar ease to some of the performances, but there is an energy and attentiveness as if it were their first time.
While Andrew Cownden once again captures Charlie Brown’s melancholy, it is Emilie Leclerc as Lucy who finds her footing in this remount. Leclerc is so good it had my young theatre companion yell out: “She’s funny”. He nailed that one. But she is also engaging and has a great voice.
Rebecca Talbot gives one of the show’s best performances as Sally this time round, nailing the sassy younger sister to Charlie Brown. Her rendition of “My New Philosophy” is a highlight.
Oliver Castillo (Linus) and Kevin Takahide Lee (Schroeder) each have a moment in the spotlight. Castillo has fun with the whimsical “My Blanket and Me”, and Lee is particularly good as he fights off Lucy’s often funny advances.
Under the direction of Carole Higgins there is a welcome diversity to this production, including a gender reassignment for Snoopy. Played by Cecilly Day, in her oversize dog suit she brings a sense of fun and some nice vocals to this rascally canine.
The three piece band – Arielle Balance, Steve Charles & KeAloha Noelani – not only provides excellent accompaniment, they are also called upon from time-to-time to participate as characters. There is something joyful in watching this trio who are just as engaged with the proceedings as those centre stage.
Also getting special mention from my youthful theatre critic was the magic created by the falling snow.
Perhaps an anomaly of the opening performance, but the announced run time of 85 minutes (plus intermission) ballooned to 130 with an Indigenous welcome, the two Charlie Brown shows, intermission, and a talk-back. For the youngest of audience members, including my own ward, this became somewhat of a challenge. I suspect the Indigenous welcome was a feature for opening only, but I would recommend an opportunity for any restless families to be able to escape before future talkbacks.
Despite going into overtime on opening, it is easy to see why Carousel Theatre for Young People decided to double-down on Charlie Brown this year as it means twice the family-friendly holiday fun.
A Charlie Brown Holiday Double Bill continues at the Waterfront Theatre on Granville Island through December 30. Visit carouseltheatre.ca for tickets and information.