A Charlie Brown Christmas Live 2016
By Andrew Andrews
It’s hard to believe that A Charlie Brown Christmas first appeared on television more than fifty years ago. Generations of Americans grew up watching the classic holiday special based on Charles Schulz’s Peanuts characters every December—even those who never really paid much attention to the comic strip that most newspapers included as part of their daily (or at least Sunday) editions.
If you look back at the show today, it’s hard to imagine why it became such an icon of the holiday season: the animation is rudimentary, the plot is rather loose, the lines are melodramatic and the pinnacle moment where Linus delivers a Bible passage that reconnects Charlie Brown with his lost Christmas spirit is quaint, at best, to a modern audience. Ironically (as Brooklyn is known to be), all of these caveats make A Charlie Brown Christmas Live 2016 such a wonderful production! Everyone in the company delivers not only the lines, but also every gesture, with an incredible accuracy that mocks the absurdity of the half-century-old cartoon in the most loving and endearing way possible. Don’t believe us? Check out our Periscope video of the Psychiatric Help scene, or our Instagram vid of the previously-mentioned Linus Monologue.
Now in their eighth season, we wonder if the cast even bothers to rehearse—we suspect the actors could perform the entire story sleeping—but director Mollie Vogt-Welch really has an impeccable show on her hands. Justin Tyler stars as Charlie Brown, complete with a single curl of hair in the center of his forehead and a troubling level of depression for a grade-schooler. As Linus, Alden Ford sucks his thumb and clings to his security blanket with all of the conviction of his cartoon counterpart. And Lucy (played by Gillian-Smith Eposito) is as bossy and narcissistic as ever.
The perfect renditions don’t stop there, however. Despite a lack of lines, Snoopy might be the most difficult role in the play, yet Amy Fitt’s taunting laugh and mischief are spot on, full of energy and enthusiasm that thrill the crowd of children and grown-ups alike. Pig Pen (John Siciliani) puts up a real cloud of dust in every appearance. Schroeder (JT Mikulka) plays Jingle Bells with accurate disdain (and an equally-accurate soundtrack mismatch—yes, even that detail doesn’t go unnoticed!). Sally (Holly O’Brien) exhibits all of the childish innocence of her drawn counterpart. Violet (Madeline Felix), Peppermint Patty (Emily Kunkel), Frieda (Teegan Curitz), Shermie (Peter Townsend) and the unnamed dancing twins (Vogt-Welch and Amanda Thickpenny) and “dancing shoulder guy” (Michael Deleget) could have all been lifted off of the screen, expanded to three dimensions and plopped onto the stage at ShapeShifter Lab—they’re all that good.
By the way, if your favorite part of the special is the music by the Vince Guaraldi Trio, this show has you covered: pianist Stephanie Sanders, bassist John Shaw and drummer Taylor Floreth perform the soundtrack live. What’s not to love about a free jazz concert with every performance? How about proceeds going to charity? You can check that one off your Christmas list, too!
For anyone who remembers Charlie Brown specials as a highlight of their childhood, A Charlie Brown Christmas Live 2016 is a must-see production that will become a more treasured annual tradition than the animated version that it honors. With only one weekend left to catch the show, don’t miss your chance to start this tradition for yourself (and optionally your family) before the opportunity (like the holidays themselves) slip by.
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Andrew Andrews attended A Charlie Brown Christmas Live 2016 at ShapeShifter Lab in Brooklyn on Sunday, December 4, 2016 @ 6:00pm to write this review.