Of course, the theatrical adaptation of the 1957 animated classic, âA Charlie Brown Christmas,â which had its first night Friday at the Arkansas Repertory Theater, is a shameless nostalgic journey.
The creations of comic book artist “Peanuts” Charles Schulz – Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy, Pigpen, their band of dancing friends and even the mischievous beagle, Snoopy – come to life in this re-creation.
Directed with formidable wit by Anna Kimmel and backed by an infectious cast of teenage artists, this “A Charlie Brown Christmas” does its part to erase the gloom of a pandemic that has kept audiences away from The Rep.
The rep responds in the same way, going all out with a lobby decorated like a winter wonderland of Peanuts with live music.
This production demonstrates why “A Charlie Brown Christmas” had such endurance. Backed by Vince Guaraldi’s jazz score, Schulz’s funny review of the holiday season feels light (the original special lasted less than 30 minutes of TV time), but it has a power that, in the end, feels superior. to the sum of its parts.
Rep’s production takes place on a stage framed by a large television. It starts with releasing Snoopy (Melody Small) and browsing channels that feature clips with cartoon dogs from Scooby-Doo to Brian on Family Guy. Small’s Snoopy is pure joy, a stage thief who makes the most of her time on stage, frustrating Charlie Brown as she tries to win top prize in a Christmas decorating contest.
It’s probably safe to say that there has never been a Charlie Brown as tall as Simon Gess. Gess’s size (which is accentuated when standing next to Walt Wenger’s Linus) doesn’t at all preclude his ability to make us feel the sad Brown bag and his search for the meaning of Christmas. Gess’ scenes with Lucy (a beaming and energetic Madison Courage Fleck) are particularly sweet.
Gess and the rest of the cast – dressed in colorful Hailey Eakle costumes – are marvels at performing the choreography (which even gets them dancing staid cartoon-style).
There are so many ways the tone of âA Charlie Brown Christmasâ could be offbeat – too cloying or just too harsh – but this one is perfect. At the end of the day, the entire cast is on stage singing Christmas carols.
The smile that this induces will persist for some time.
“A Charlie Brown Christmas” runs through December 23 at the Rep, 601 Main St., Little Rock. For curtain hours and ticket information, call (501) 378-0405 or visit therep.org. The Covid-19 protocols can be found at therep.org/covid.