THERE aren’t many people who haven’t seen A Charlie Brown Christmas. It's perhaps one of Charles Schulz's most beloved Peanuts cartoon specials, and is as ingrained into the fabric of our culture as any other classic Christmas cartoon. For several years now, Savannah Children's Theatre has been bringing the story to life on stage under the direction of Founder and Artistic Director Kelie Miley.
Ahead of their December performances, which are set to run until the 15th, we spoke to Miley about why their performance of the classic holiday story has done so well and why Peanuts continues to resonate with people of all ages.
You guys are really great at bringing these animated stories to life. What was that process like with A Charlie Brown Christmas?
KM: This is our fourth year - the first year I did it, I didn't intend for it to be an annual thing. When I saw that it was available and we did it, we had such an amazing response. It's 18-and-under casting. So many kids came out for it, and it's truly a cross-generational audience experience. I grew up with this special, back when you had to wait for a program to come on TV [laughs].
Charles Schulz nailed Charlie Brown’s characters - there’s a personality type for all of us within his characters. They’re five years old, speaking like wise 40-year-olds. He’s nailed the anxiety, there’s the shy introvert - they’re all there.
Everybody needs to watch the special - our script is exactly that. It’s not some new, avant garde take. It’s the traditional 30-minute TV special.
That being said, it’s short. Which is great for young attention spans. So because it’s such a short show, we do the Charlie Brown experience in the back. Kids can meet some of the characters, they decorate a cookie, make an ornament, color a comic strip, there’s a hot cocoa bar.
Then after that, we invite them into the theater and do the show. So it’s about an hour, which is still great for young attention spans! [laughs]
What’s the best part of working with a young cast on a show like this?
KM: We had our last rehearsal recently - I've got two different casts, and it's a three-week run which is a lot. When I was giving the final notes, a young girl who I've not worked with personally before raised her hand and said, "Can I please say something?"
She says, “I want everybody to know that some kids who come see the show, this is their very first theatrical experience. Some people will come out for the Christmas show who’ve never seen a play, and I just want you to know that it can change the world. We’ve got to do the best we can do and be the very best Charlie Brown characters we can be.”
She was so earnest, and I loved her passion. That’s the best thing about working with kids. It’s not, “Hey, it’s 10 at night and I’ve got to go to work tomorrow. When are we going to be done with this thing?” It’s, “What can we do? How can we be better?”
That’s the best. They care so much about doing a good job and being all in.
That’s amazing. I’m curious, why do you think Charles Schulz’ characters and the Peanuts franchise has continued to resonate with people?
KM: I think it's because there's so much wisdom with Charles Schulz. When you're sitting there watching the TV special or seeing our play, you know if you're a Charlie Brown. You know if you're a Lucy or a Linus. You see some of yourself in all of them. With just a few lines, he nails whatever it is he's trying to say.
On the surface, Charlie Brown looks depressed. Things don’t go right for Charlie Brown. But the reason we all love him is because he’s a character of hope. He doesn’t say, “You know what? I’m done. I’m never kicking that football again.” He’s not ostracized by his little community, they always just keep trying to forge on.