[Note: This is a review of the previous production with same production team. ]A bright young cast brings to life Charles M. Schulz’s cherished Peanuts characters in this sprightly stage production that’s based on the beloved 1965 animated television special, A Charlie Brown Christmas.
Wearing a white outfit with black spots, a dangling tail and a white cap with floppy black ears, Devan Marie Corcoran as Snoopy gets the show off to a rollicking start. Ms. Corcoran’s tap dancing is sensational and her captivating, mostly silent presence is on display throughout.
Soft-spoken and morose, Patrick Dinnsen is a wonderfully touching Charlie Brown. Michelle Owens is a winningly feisty Lucy. The non-speaking role of the bird Woodstock is performed by rotating cast members and at the performance under review, James Chin vigorously appeared in a yellow outfit and a gold hat.
Alec Brown as Linus, Robyn Michele Frank as Sally, Richie Dupkin as Schroeder, Sam Swenson as Pigpen, Christopher Michael Milligan as Shermy, Kimberly Wilpon as Frieda, Joan Jamison as Violet and Ana Roshelle Diaz as Patty all deliver faithful and charming characterizations.
Vince Guaraldi’s monumental jazz themes are beautifully rendered by musical director Jenny Shiroma on piano, Laura Hamel on percussion and Billie Sholen on bass. This talented trio also performs marvelous renditions of a number of classic holiday numbers including “The Christmas Song,” Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” from The Nutcracker, and “Silent Night.” Most crucially they do great justice to Mr. Guaraldi’s wistful “Christmas Time Is Here.”
The ensemble joyously darting around to catch snowflakes on their tongues is a grand highlight of director and choreographer Ashton Foster’s inventive staging. Ms. Foster’s treatment of the decorating of the pivotal Christmas tree is particularly accomplished.
Eric Schaeffer’s skillful adaptation is true to the poignant spirit of Bill Melendez and Lee Mendelson’s original script.
To boost the depressed Charlie Brown, Lucy instigates that he be the director of their school’s Christmas pageant. A major issue is the selection of a Christmas tree for the show. Will he select a lavish aluminum one or a scrawny real one?
Snoopy’s doghouse, Lucy’s psychiatric booth, and Schroeder’s piano are all perfectly realized by Paul T. Kennedy and Richard Mazda’s scenic design that has terrific snowy and starry accessories. Mr. Kennedy’s lighting design vividly conveys the dimension of the Peanuts universe with muted hues and crisp brightness. Kennedy’s sound design is a well-modulated balance of music and effects.
Costume designer Antonio Consuegra colorfully replicates those iconic figures with an array of clever garments.
The 25-minute long A Charlie Brown Christmas first aired on CBS on December 9, 1965. It was critically acclaimed with 45% of that night’s television audience watching it, and it was number two in the weekly ratings, coming in after Bonanza. It’s been rerun annually on network television and despite advancing technology these airings always get a sizeable viewership.
In producing this family fare for The Secret Theatre, Mr. Mazda, its artistic director, has successfully assembled all of the necessary elements for warm-hearted entertainment that’s a meaningful delight for children and adults.
The euphoric finale has the singers bringing young audience members onstage to dance as the band plays “Let it Snow,” “Winter Wonderland” and “Frosty The Snowman.”
A Charlie Brown Christmas (return engagement December 21, 2018 – January 6, 2019)
The Secret Theatre, 44-02 23rd St (between 44th Road and 44th Avenue), in Long Island City, NY
For tickets, call 718-392-0722 or visit http://www.secrettheatre.showare.com
Running time: one hour with no intermission