IN 2015, the Savannah Children’s Theatre established a new holiday tradition: bringing A Charlie Brown Christmas to life for the Lowcountry. The classic animated TV special projects into countless homes annually, but on the SCT stage, families can look forward to a special outing that everyone, from toddlers to grandma, will enjoy.
“We did it last year and it was very successful,” SCT Artistic Director Kelie Miley remembers. “It’s a lot of fun for a lot of families, so we decided to make it an annual tradition.”
The stage adaptation of the TV hit stays quite true to its roots. The first of several Peanuts television specials, A Charlie Brown Christmas was an unlikely success when it debuted in 1965 on CBS. The program is inherently a rejection of holiday consumerism, emphasizing the true meaning of Christmas over gift-giving.
Before it aired, CBS executives were in a tizzy, concerned about the slow pace, unusual use of jazz music in a holiday flick, absence of a laugh track, the use of child actors, and the simple animation.
Animator Ed Levitt was one of the few optimists, remarking, “This show is going to run for a hundred years!” before it aired.
Boy, was he right.
Pianist Guaraldi’s soundtrack is in regular radio rotation from November to December. Scrawny plastic Charlie Brown Christmas trees are, in forehead-slapping irony, available for purchase in catalogs and novelty gift shops.
And which float was that leading this year’s 90th annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, ringing in the season? None other than Charlie Brown, of course.
The program was adapted for the stage by Eric Schaeffer, licensed and authorized by the family of Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz and producer Lee Mendelson in 2013. A favorite of schools, community theatres, and churches alike, the production features the original music fans know and love and a script that closely follows the TV program’s dialogue.
Throughout its memorable moments and quotable lines, Miley believes it’s the heart of A Charlie Brown Christmas that resonates from generation to generation.
“It’s all about the message of the show, which is, ‘I’m not going to make commercialism ruin my Christmas’ and finding out what it is other than fabulous trees and the 90 presents Sally wants, the doghouse contest Snoopy is entering—all that stuff,” Miley says. “It’s a really nice statement for the beginning of shopping season.”
A trio of local musicians, including Warren Heilman on keys, Dobby Simmons on standup bass, and Tom Hoffman on drums, will perform the classic Vince Guaraldi musical score.
“You can’t do Charlie Brown without thinking of the music!” Miley declares.
In the past, Savannah’s theatrical youth rang in the holiday spirit with classics like A Christmas Carol and holiday revues featuring sketches, songs, and dances. Miley finds that Snoopy and friends have much broader appeal than The Ghost of Christmas Past and his cohorts.
“There’s nothing scary [in A Charlie Brown Christmas],” she points out. “I love A Christmas Carol, but I’m a grownup and have older children, and small children are very often frightened by A Christmas Carol.”
It’s a short show—perfect for young attention spans—and SCT has provided plenty of opportunities for kids to get involved and get festive. Attendees are invited to enjoy crafts and treats at a pre-show party.
Kids can decorate their own cookies, craft take-home ornaments, meet their favorite characters from the show, and sing their favorite carols before the curtain opens.
There’s even a create-your-own-cocoa bar to sweeten the show.
“Everybody grew up with Charlie Brown,” says Miley warmly. “Parents of small children, their grandparents—everyone can come and enjoy this.”