Sweet and uplifting, just in time for the holidays!
|Emerald City Theatre i/a/w Broadway in Chicago presents|
|A Charlie Brown Christmas|
Review by Lauren Whalen
The holidays are upon us, whether we like it or not. Charlie Brown most definitely falls into the “not” category: he’s despondent at the commercialization of Christmas, and isn’t quite sure why he feels so depressed at what’s supposed to be a happy time. Thanks to the late, great Charles M. Schulz, the Peanuts gang lives on – and this year, post-election, Charlie Brown is all of us. Emerald City Theatre’s glowing adaptation of A Charlie Brown Christmas is a sweetly existential reminder that there’s meaning beyond endless merchandising, and even in the depths of despair, life really does go on.
This Charlie Brown Christmas is directly adapted from the iconic TV special, created by Bill Melendez and Lee Mendelson, complete with Vince Guaraldi‘s iconic music, spontaneous dance breaks and even a cameo appearance from Woodstock. As always, poor Charlie Brown (Jason Goff) just can’t get anything right. He wants to feel the Christmas spirit, but only sees commercialization at every turn. Even his beloved pooch Snoopy (Jesse Dornan) is selling out by decorating his doghouse for prize money. On the advice of budding psychiatrist Lucy (Veronica Garza), Charlie Brown agrees to direct the Christmas play, but even that’s a disaster. Will he ever find the true meaning of Christmas, or is he doomed to perpetual screw-ups and neverending gift-grubbing?
Like the TV special, A Charlie Brown Christmas isn’t very long, making it very friendly to the younger set. (My mom joked that my siblings and I were the oldest “kids” in the Broadway Playhouse. She was right.) Yet Charlie Brown’s existential struggle, while it may go over the head of a four-year-old, is quite relatable in the modern political climate, where a Presidential election has spurned nationwide protests and an uptick in public hate speech. How do we, as a nation, go on? How do we make this okay for ourselves, our families, our children? How in the world are we going to celebrate the holidays with the happiness of previous years? (Then again, for some of us, the holidays have never been a happy time.)
What A Charlie Brown Christmas does so seamlessly is acknowledge this disconnect while gently reminding us that life as we know it is going to be okay. Sure, the tree might be little and scrawny. Rampant consumerism will happen as long as there’s an economy to support. And even five-cent psychiatric help doesn’t always point us in the right direction. In spite of these truths, however, there is also piano music. And happy dogs. And people in bright clothes skating and doing the running man. Even for those who aren’t Christian, there’s a certain comfort in the story of the first Christmas (which you can view as credo or just a lovely story of a refugee baby in a barn). It’s the little things that become the big ones, that get us through the tough times, and A Charlie Brown Christmas is utterly reassuring. Emerald City Theatre, with its sensitivity to youth and its impressive stable of actors, designers and directors, couldn’t have picked a better season to put up this production. Thanks to their stellar job on all fronts, my family and I emerged from the Broadway Playhouse smiling in the bright sunlight, ready for whatever life hands us next.
A Charlie Brown Christmas continues through January 8th at Broadway Playhouse, 175 E. Chestnut (map) at Water Tower Place. Tickets are $16.50-$32.50, and are available by phone (800-775-2000) or online through Ticketmaster.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at BroadwayinChicago.com. (Running time: 45 minutes, no intermission)
Photos by Austin Oie
Alex Benjamin (Schroeder, piano), Maggie Dahlberg (Peppermint Patty, Bass), Jesse Dornan (Snoopy), Veronica Garza (Lucy), Jason Goff (Charlie Brown), Khloe Janel (Violet), Daniel Kyri (Linus), C. Jaye Miller (Sally), Jaymes Osbourne (Pig Pen, Drums), Nora Lise Ulrey (Frieda)
behind the scenes
Ann Filmer (director, choreographer), Alex Benjamin (music director), Joe Schermoly (scenic design), Izumi Inaba (costume design), Daniel Friedman (lighting design), Jeffrey Levin (sound design), Letitia Guillaud (props designer), Austin Oie (photography)