November 11, 2019

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Peanuts' prestige stands the test of time

Local production of classic Charlie Brown tales a delight, for kids and parents alike

Leif Norman</p><p>Toronto's Peter Fernades is a good man for the role of Charlie Brown. </p>

Leif Norman

Toronto's Peter Fernades is a good man for the role of Charlie Brown.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 9/12/2017 (702 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 9/12/2017 (702 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

If you grew up with the Charles Schulz-penned comic strip, Peanuts, you may be culturally acclimatized to the world of Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy and Linus.

If that’s the case, you should check out Manitoba Theatre for Young People’s Christmas show, A Charlie Brown Double Bill. A mashup of the truncated ’60s Broadway show You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown! and the perennial ’60s TV favourite A Charlie Brown Christmas, the 90-minute production should serve as a refresher course in how strange an entity Peanuts was in the first place.

The comic strip, like the shows, transposed 1960s adult themes to the realm of the elementary school, the playground and the community club. Hence, here’s round-headed kid Charlie Brown, muttering like an authoritative neurotic about far-flung subjects including inferiority complexes, the commercialization of Christmas and the most important rule of the theatre ("Pay attention to your director"). Augmenting the specific mid-’60s groove, the latter Christmas half of the production features the famous cool jazz soundtrack of Vince Guaraldi.

So, the primary question about this particular production is: does it hold up, not only as a relic of the ’60s but as a conjoining of two different Peanuts properties? And surprisingly, the answer on both counts is yes, although the show is probably best viewed by kids in the company of a parent or guardian to help navigate it all.

The first half is a compressed take on the Broadway musical by Clark Gesner, featuring a selection of songs such as You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown!, Suppertime (as performed by Snoopy) and the Sally showstopper My New Philosophy. The second half (divided by a brief intermission) is such a faithful scene-by-scene reproduction of A Charlie Brown Christmas, fans of the TV show will be able to anticipate the lines before they are spoken.

The performers are required to hold their own in the musical-theatre performances, and they do this well. Toronto-based Peter Fernandes is a good man for Charlie Brown, funny as required but delivering poignancy as a juvenile tortured soul. Seen through a contemporary sensibility, Charlie Brown’s little sister Sally deserves some standing as an early feminist icon. She’s intellectually challenging (she argues with her teacher over the mark she received for her coat-hanger sculpture) and spiritually searching (My New Philosophy). A strong character deserves Julie Lumsden’s strong performance (not to mention her strong skating ability).

As a blonde Lucy Van Pelt, Jillian Willems has a good, potent voice (pretty much a Lucy requirement) and as her blanket-toting brother Linus, Nelson Bettencourt easily navigates the character’s contradictory nature of worldly innocence.

Ari Weinberg, the artistic director of Winnipeg Jewish Theatre, injects a manic joy as Snoopy, a role that could only be played by a high-energy individual.

Director Pablo Felices-Luna brilliantly integrates the band into the action, with keyboardist/musical director Paul DeGurse doing triple duty taking on the role of Lucy’s romantic fixation Schroeder. Bass player Marie-Josee Dandeneau takes on Freida (she of the naturally curly hair) and percussionist Ryan Voth is Pig Pen.

Performed in the round on the MTYP stage, the show is elegantly designed in blue hues and playground accoutrements that serve to lighten the load when the going gets, in ’60s parlance, heavy, man.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @FreepKing

Randall King

Randall King
Reporter

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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