Monday, July 16, 2018

Local Entertainment

Menomonie Theater Guild brings Charlie Brown TV special to stage

"A Charlie Brown Christmas" runs Dec. 1, 2, 8 and 9 at Menomonie's Mabel Tainter Center for the Arts

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    Owain Collins as Charlie Brown and Aidan Litscher as Linus search the aluminum Christmas tree lot for the perfect tree during rehearsals for the Menomonie Theater Guild’s production of “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” which runs Friday through Dec. 10 at the Mabel Tainter Center for the Arts in Menomonie.

    Contributed photo

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    From left, Jude Ogden as Snoopy, Brendan Booth as Pig Pen and Graeme Strong as Schroeder rock out to the Peanuts theme during reheasals for Menomonie Theater Guild’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

    Contributed photo

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    Owain Collins as Charlie Brown tries to diagnose his Christmas blues at Lucy's psychiatry booth, played by Lily Fraher.

    Contributed Photo

MENOMONIE — There’s something really special about bringing a classic holiday television special to life, especially one that involves a cast of 25 kids.  

That’s how Menomonie Theater Guild director Katie Shay is feeling about working with her cast for the guild’s upcoming production of “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” 

“Most Charlie Brown plays have adult casts playing the kids, but I was like ‘it’d be cuter with kids,’ ” Shay said during rehearsals Monday night. “And it is adorable. When they get up on stage it doesn’t matter what they do, everyone’s just going to go ‘aww,’ but they’re actually doing it right, too, so that’s cool.” 

A stage adaptation of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” was just released in 2015 and Shay, an avid Peanuts fan since her own childhood, could not wait to get her hands on the script.

She wasn’t the only one. 

Owain Collins, 13, who professes watching the TV special “at least 15 times,” couldn’t wait to audition when he heard the guild was going to be doing a Charlie Brown show. 

“I didn’t even know there was a stage-adapted version of ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas,’ ” Owain said. “My expectations were kind of low for a play-adapted TV special, but this is an amazing show. If I hadn’t been in it I would totally regret not being in it.” 

Owain was cast as Charlie Brown, and said he’s enjoyed bringing the iconic scenes and characters to life. 

He thinks the audience will be enchanted by how true to the original the show is.

“You want to go see Snoopy’s dog house, Schroeder’s piano,” Owain said. “It’s so interesting to see how they did the characters, the costumes and all the details.” 

Of course, those details also pose a challenge.

Aidan Litscher, 9, was cast as Linus, and he said that is his favorite character from the TV special he’s watched “since I was little.” 

But everyone knows Linus’ famous speech after Charlie Brown asks, “isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” 

It could have been a rhetorical question, but in the special, Linus goes into great detail to answer, quoting passages from the Bible about baby Jesus being born in the manger.  

“If I mess up one word in Linus’ big line, (the audience) is going to know, and it’s the biggest line in the whole play,” Aidan said. “That is kind of scary.”

That, Shay said, is the only downside to recreating such a well-known show.

She’s been working with the kids to make sure they get the lines exactly as written, but she’s impressed with how quickly they have learned. 

“Usually if you mess up a bit no one can tell, whereas this one if they do the audience will be like, ‘that’s not how that goes,’ ” she said. “That’s tough for someone like Charlie Brown, who says the same thing over and over but slightly different. But (Owain) has really risen to the occasion, even this last rehearsal shows how hard he’s been practicing.” 

With rehearsals drawing to a close, she can tell her cast is ready to get in front of a crowd. 

Though the kids are all younger than her, she is starting to worry they know these characters better than she does. 

“They’ll come in with their own ideas and want to try something, add this or that,” she said. “Seeing them really embrace their characters has been wonderful.” 

Jude Ogden, 13, was cast as Snoopy, and though he doesn’t have any speaking lines in the role he said he’s embraced the character. 

“It’s challenging but it’s fun,” Jude said. “He gets to make cartoon noises and messes with people.” 

His favorite part of the play, though, is the amount of “stage magic” that happens to create the cartoon feel. 

That is Aidan’s favorite part, and he thinks the audience will enjoy it, too. 

“I’m really excited about all of the stage magic that is going to happen,” Aidan said. “I think it’s going to be really cool seeing the expressions on the audience’s faces when you see the trees switch, the can fly off and all that.”

Fans of the TV special will undoubtedly have a good time, and Aidan thinks it will take people back to their own childhood. 

“For grown-ups and older people, I think it’s a good reason to come back because it might bring back memories of old Christmases when they were little kids and watched the show,” he said.

If there’s anybody who hasn’t seen the TV special that has been airing every year since 1965, Shay added it is a good way to get into the holiday spirit and remember what the holidays are all about.

Charlie Brown, who is feeling down about Christmas and the stress the season can bring, is reminded what the true meaning of Christmas is all about. And that’s something she thinks everyone can use, especially now. 

“It’s all about love and that’s all we need to remember during the season,” Shay said. “So if you need a little reminder, you should definitely come see the show. Plus, the kids are super-duper cute.”

Contact: 715-833-9214, katy.macek@ecpc.com, @KatherineMacek on Twitter


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