Pictured (Back to Front): Vincent Wagner, Evan J. Lovelace, R.H. Wilhoit, David LeVota, Justin Barron, Shon Ruffin, Darcie Hingula, Ai Vy Bui, Deanna Mazdra, and Tony Pulford. Photo by J. Robert Schraeder.
By Abigail Trabue
“Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?!”
The plea heard round the world, uttered by one of the seasons most iconic holiday characters, Charlie Brown, is now on stage at The Coterie Theatre in a whimsical and faithful adaptation that brings plenty of Christmas cheer to kids of all ages (and their big people too).
Written by the beloved Charles M. Schulz, and adapted for the stage by Eric Schaeffer, A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS is from start to finish the 1965 television special by Bill Melendez and Lee Mendelson. Featuring a live jazz trio playing iconic Vince Guaraldi music, and a beautifully diverse cast of actors who embrace the simplicity and innocence of the story, CHARLIE BROWN is a perfectly short 55 minutes that does a lovely job of reinventing the images we associate with the story without feeling like a cheap knockoff. The actors find ways to make these larger-than-life characters their own, something that can be hard to accomplish when cartoon Sally is in your head saying, “All I want is what I have coming to me. All I want is my fair share.” It’s one of my favorite lines in the story and Deanna Mazdra handles it nicely without sounding like an imitation.
Vocally and musically Coterie’s production is sound. Musicians Sam Wisman, Jeff Harshbarger, and Gary Adams (who also serves as music director), along with sound designer David Kiehl perfectly weave Guaraldi’s treasured pieces into the world on stage without overpowering the actors or the audience. They also find a wonderful way to represent Woodstock through the jazz trio, something my 10-year-old picked up on immediately. Adams also strikes a right balance with the actors, finding sounds that remind us of the cartoon without feeling false or forced.
In our particular performance, we were surrounded by several school groups, all of whom started chanting “Charlie Brown, Charlie Brown” before the show – and during – several children exclaimed, “I love you, Charlie Brown.” When you see theater with a hundred plus children the energy is electric. My own son, who may have been the oldest kid in the room, found as much joy as his younger theatergoers, remarking that the roller skating was “so cool” and when asked who his favorite character was said, “I can’t pick just one. They were all incredible.”
I find so many reasons to celebrate this production. We all know arts exposure is vital in the education of a child, and artists and communities who invest their time and talent in organizations like the Coterie help bring this necessary work to children. CHARLIE BROWN’s cast is one of the most diverse I’ve seen on a KC stage, and the potential impact such a cast can have on every child in the room is undeniable. I was genuinely moved during the final curtain call as the cast stood there receiving so much love from the kids in the audience. It’s a powerful reminder of just how important representation matters on our stages.
Coterie’s CHARLIE BROWN is a joyous celebration of the Christmas season and the innocence, and wonder of childhood. It’s a holiday production not to be missed, and will have you singing “Linus and Lucy” for days to follow.
A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS runs through December 31st. For more information visit thecoterie.org.