A CHARLIE BROWN HOLIDAY DOUBLE BILL
Photo Credit: Tim Matheson
Carousel Theatre For Young People, Waterfront Theatre, until December 30th
My Two Cents
I have little experience with Theatre for Young Audiences and therefore feel somewhat ill-equipped to review it. I brought a (much) younger family member who I hoped might be able to offer some more keen insight. Mostly, he laughed a lot (in particular at the blanket shenanigans and at Snoopy in particular) and, afterwards, informed me that he liked everything about it.
The first half is a condensed version of You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown, the Broadway musical based on Peanuts. True to the source material, there isn’t much of a plot - it’s more a series of vignettes, little living comic strips, short gags with musical numbers. Adults playing children don’t always sit well with me - it’s difficult to be honest and appeal to the children in the audience without overacting. Luckily, Andrew Cownden is a perfect Charlie Brown, totally embodying the sweet sadness of our titular hero while remaining likeable. Everyone is energetic and committed throughout, but the childishness gets overly cartoony at times (yes, I am aware it is based on a comic/cartoon). Cecilly Day is absolutely a standout as Snoopy, nailing the playful attitude of the popular pup and with a sensational, strong voice to boot.
The second half is a live-action re-enactment of the beloved A Charlie Brown Christmas animated television special, with a few extra holiday songs thrown in at the end for good measure. This is where the nostalgic joy kicked in for me. Hearing that familiar Peanuts theme and seeing the “kids” with their signature dance moves (also hearing the giggles from beside me) was a special experience. I adored everything about the ice-skating sequence, from the music to the clever design of the skates. There’s some truly magical lighting courtesy of Darren Boquist. The sets and costumes are bright and colourful and just as cartoony as they ought to be. It was a clever touch to have the musicians double as characters in the second half. Steve Charles in particular was spot on in his few moments as Pigpen.
Despite it’s sweetness, Charlie Brown tackles some heavy ideas for kids. We forget sometimes that little ones have huge feelings - sadness, anger, frustration, and happiness. Charlie Brown is depressed and Lucy has anger issues, but they just want to be liked and accepted by their friends. After the show, there was a helpful Q&A that explained to the children in the audience how theatrical productions work and discussed the themes of the shows, asking things like “what can we do for a friend who’s sad?”. I commend Carousel Theatre for what they do in making theatre accessible (they also do a lower-priced performance as well as a sensory-friendly performance) and doing the work it takes to help kids develop empathy and understanding.
A note to parents/caregivers: the show is ninety minutes overall, with a twenty minute intermission. The first half is about an hour and some of the littler kids in the audience were definitely getting restless. The second half goes by much quicker and there is a fun scavenger hunt at intermission. (Also, a small thing but is it ever noticeable when surrounded by a hundred tiny humans - the pre-show announcements are done in complete darkness and felt like they went on forever… and thus by the end were inaudible due to the murmuring of the crowd).