The holidays are all about traditions, and since its debut in 1965, the animated version of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” has become an enduring family favorite.
This year, for the first time ever, Gershwin Entertainment, a national touring company, will recreate the award-winning Peanuts gang characters in a live, one-night-only stage presentation of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 28, at the Craterian Theater in Medford.
"It will be interesting to see live people playing the different Peanuts characters,” says Eric Strahl, publicity manager for the Craterian Theater. “Even though it’s a first, we’ve had very good quality productions from this company in the past, so I expect it to be a hit."
Based on the animated Emmy and Peabody Award-winning television show, this live, on-stage presentation will feature the beloved Peanuts gang and the memorable music of Vince Guaraldi, performed by a three-piece ensemble on stage. Following the performance, the cast will lead the audience in a selection of favorite holiday carols, accompanied by Schroeder’s band.
For 52 years, Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, Snoopy and the rest of the gang have had one adventure after another, as creator Charles M. Schultz, ingeniously used his characters’ quirky antics to convey a subtle but timeless moral-of-the-story message. In this case, we’re reminded of the true meaning of Christmas.
Here, the lovable but insecure Charlie Brown struggles to find the joy of the season, but feels depressed because Christmas has become too commercialized.
Ever the cheerleader, Lucy decides to organize a neighborhood Christmas play, appointing Charlie Brown as director. But poor down-in-the-dumps Charlie isn’t up to his best effort. He confides to Linus, “I think there must be something wrong with me. I just don’t understand Christmas, I guess. I might be getting presents and sending Christmas cards and decorating trees and all that, but I’m still not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel.”
Try as he might, Charlie’s attempts at directing reflect his melancholy mood and the play is a disaster. The gang is less than sympathetic and Linus tells Charlie Brown, “You are the only person I know who can take a wonderful season like Christmas and turn it into a problem. Maybe Lucy is right. Of all of the Charlie Browns in the world, you are the Charlie Brownest.”
Ultimately, Linus saves the day by reminding Charlie Brown about the true meaning of Christmas, and the Peanuts gang unites to celebrate around the pathetic but iconic Charlie Brown Christmas tree.
Although this particular presentation is new, there is a precedent for Charles Shultz productions, Strahl says.
"Our Teen Musical Theater of Oregon did ‘You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown’ a couple of years ago, which is a popular play. But 'A Charlie Brown Christmas' is not really known as a stage play, so we were particularly excited about booking it as it toured across the West Coast.”
Strahl says many performances come and go throughout the year, but there’s always something special about the holiday presentations.
“It’s interesting because in the morning there will be a black, blank stage, and by 7 p.m., there will be that air of anticipation, live music and an entire Charles Schultz world on stage. There will be people in the auditorium, laughing and crying and clapping. And then by midnight or so, the stage will be blank again and the production company will be on the road and headed to the next town to do it all over again.”