Dancing, ice skating, and lessons about the true meaning of Christmas are just a few of the items on the menu in the Lexington Children's Theatre's production of A Charlie Brown Christmas.
Director Vivian Snipes and a cast of youngsters brings Charles Schulz's Peanuts comic strip to life on the Opera House stage in a faithful interpretation that will particularly satisfy fans of the Charlie Brown television Christmas special, by Bill Melendez and Lee Mendelson.
The staged version was adapted by Eric Shaeffer and faithfully follows the plot of the TV Christmas special that has been a popular holiday tradition since 1965. The show centers around a glum Charlie Brown, who just cannot seem to get into Christmas, despite everyone else's holiday cheer. He struggles with the commercialism that even his own dog, Snoopy, embraces and struggles further to direct the annual Christmas play. When the play calls for a Christmas tree prop, Charlie Brown selects a scrawny, pitiful-looking tree that eventually inspires his friends to rally around him so Charlie Brown finally experiences the Christmas cheer he was lacking.
Audiences will immediately recognize the Peanuts gang and the world they live in thanks to smart designs by costume designer Jessica Pribble, scenic designer Matthew R. Hallock, and lighting and sound designer Benjamin M. Norman.
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Hallock's sliding sets not only convey the illustrative feel of the comic strip; they are an extremely practical and clever way of maintaining the comic strip feel — not just the drawing itself, but the way one reads frames of comic strips from left to right — in a way that is fluid and entertaining for theater audiences. And Norman's lighting designs occasionally create some truly magical holiday moments.
The show is a Discovery production, which means it's largely (and in this case, entirely) acted by student actors. Kudos to youngsters Cavan Hendron, Bobby Lowther and Hannah Daugherty for their performances in lead roles as Charlie Brown, Snoopy and Lucy, respectively. The children in the school performance I attended Tuesday morning particularly responded to Snoopy's humor.
Daugherty especially deserves praise for cultivating the qualities in Lucy that are immediately recognizable: she's loud, bossy and self-absorbed. But she's also funny and, in her own way, trying to do the best for her friends as she can. The same can be said for Charlie Brown. Hendron is sufficiently glum, thoughtful and, at times, hopeful, making for a faithful and entertaining version of the famous character.
The entire cast deserves praise for their ice skating scenes. Covering regular roller skates with costumed "blades" creates the illusion that the Peanuts gang is skating serenely across the Opera House stage. This is the kind of theater magic that Snipes called on to recreate the Peanuts world we all know and love.