Charlie Brown comes to town

A live version of the classic cartoon "A Charlie Brown Christmas" is coming to the Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center. Richard Termine

“Good grief!” As Christmas draws ever closer and classic holiday specials play across countless television networks all day long, fans of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” will have another way to enjoy the classic cartoon.

On Dec. 18, the Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center at College of the Canyons will host the touring performance of “A Charlie Brown Christmas Live on Stage.” The show will recreate the story of the cartoon.

“We’re bringing the story you know and love to life on stage with some theatrical staging and have augmented it with projectors and special effects,” said Thomas Netter, who plays Charlie Brown in the production. “This story was made to be played live, and it’s not something where we’re running around in foam heads. We’re real actors putting on a full musical.”

“A Charlie Brown Christmas” premiered in 1965 and broke many television conventions of the day including hiring real children as voice actors, including a jazz soundtrack and omitting a laugh track. Though producers expected the special to fail, it received rave reviews, won an Emmy and has been broadcast every year since its debut. 

The cartoon follows Charlie Brown as he struggles to learn the true meaning of Christmas in the face of commercialism, a runaway Nativity play and a tiny Christmas tree.

“Everyone can identify with a character in the ‘Peanuts’ gang, and we were all children once, and Charles Schultz’s writing really captures that feeling of curiosity and learning new things,” Netter said. “There’s a lovely scripture quote in the special but it’s also about so much more than that. It’s about peace and good will towards each other, which is something we all strive for, and the holidays are the best time to look around and see that.”

Netter remembers watching the Christmas special with his family growing up and said he is excited to be part of the show, especially since for many young viewers it is their first exposure to the characters.

“Some of our youngest audience members come with their grandparents and they haven’t even seen the cartoon yet, so this is their introduction to the Peanuts,” Netter said. “At first, it was really daunting to play Charlie Brown, but everyone has such a connection to him because he’s an everyman, and there’s a little bit of him in everyone.”

Though the show has been performed live before, Netter said this is the first time the show has toured with this staging, including the special effects and including a performance of the Nativity play that is not seen in the cartoon. Netter said his favorite part of the production is the music.

“Vince Guaraldi’s themes and music are so nostalgic and just bring you back and warms your heart. It puts you in a good mood and brings you into the world of the ‘Peanuts,’” he said. 

“A Charlie Brown Christmas Live on Stage” is scheduled to be performed at 7 p.m. on Dec. 18 at the Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center, 26455 Rockwell Canyon Road, Santa Clarita. Tickets range in price from $39 to $49 and can be purchased at www3.canyons.edu/Offices/PIO/CanyonsPAC/charlie.html.

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