Happiness and cheer: Charlie Brown gets help in search for true meaning of Christmas in live musical

For the CDTDecember 20, 2013 

  • IF YOU GO

    What: Fuse Productions’ “A Charlie Brown Christmas”

    When: 1:30, 4 and 7 p.m. Dec. 21

    Where: State Theatre, 130 W. College Ave., State College

    Info: www.thestatetheatre.org, 272-0606

The cast of Fuse Productions’ “A Charlie Brown Christmas” was born long after the original TV special aired in 1965, but all ages are familiar with the animated homage to Christmas.

Based on Charles Schulz’s “Peanuts” comic strip first published in 1950 and its animated special, the 30-minute musical will feature all of the wonderful music of Vince Guaraldi and features Sean Toso as Charlie Brown, Michael Waldhier as Snoopy, Kylie Bumbarger as Sally and Michael Tews as Schroeder. Richard Biever will direct.

Anyone who has seen the classic “Peanuts” specials will know that the theme is quite simple: Charlie Brown is a kid who is trying to figure out the meaning of Christmas.

“He is very confused about why everything is so commercial nowadays about Christmas, and he relies on his friend Linus to help him discover what Christmas is really about,” Toso said.

Waldhier’s role as Charlie Brown’s dog, Snoopy, is unique in that he doesn’t have to say a thing.

“He doesn’t speak any words in the comics or in the show, so he almost has to be conveyed either physically, through movement and expressions or with animal noises,” Waldhier said.

Because the show is very short, the cast only needed one week of rehearsals. Scripts were passed out a month ahead of time so everyone could learn their lines and cues. Costumes and props for show stay true to the colors, look and feel of the Charlie Brown comic strip and TV adaptations that have been known and loved for so many generations.

Toso said he found the short performance easy to memorize, but at the same time it is one of the hardest shows he has done.

“We are doing Charlie Brown and ‘Peanuts,’ not to mention that it is the beloved Christmas special,” he said. “When you have a show that is so well known and so loved, putting it on is actually a bit daunting. The script is almost a direct copy of the TV special and most people know it very well, so we don’t want to disappoint the many ‘Peanuts’ fans.”

Biever agreed that doing this show was a bit intimidating because everyone knows it so well. But, he said, as soon as the cast read through the script, they all laughed and were moved by the story and the characters.

“The trick is to play it sincerely and not try to slavishly imitate the television show,” he said. “We have a cast of 10 wonderful actors who understand that it doesn’t work to act like little kids. The things the characters are going through are actually what adults struggle with, too.”

Watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is part of the holiday tradition for a lot of people, but Waldhier said he would love to make the live version part of that tradition as well.

“My biggest hope is that both adults and children leave the theater with a smile, singing ‘Christmas Time Is Here’ on the way home,” he said.

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