One of the finest seasons at Sinclair Community College continues with an absolutely adorable local premiere of “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” Eric Schaeffer’s enjoyably by-the-book adaptation of Bill Melendez and Lee Mendelson’s funny, meaningful and touching 1965 Emmy Award-winning holiday cartoon of the same name by “Peanuts” creator Charles M. Schulz.
You know the drill. Charlie Brown, bothered and bewildered as ever, can’t seem to get into the holiday spirit because he feels the season has become too commercial. He even turns to his ever-reliable therapist Lucy (a.k.a. the Christmas Queen) for help. But everything changes when Lucy pulls Charlie out of his doldrums by asking him to direct the school play. He unfortunately takes his plum assignment too seriously, but ultimately comes to understand the true meaning of Christmas thanks to the Gospel of Luke and a peculiar tree in need of a little love.
Director Gina Kleesattel, with impressive assistance from scenic designer Terry Stump, costumer Kathleen Hotmer and lighting designer Gina Neuerer, terrifically brings the cartoon to life in 30 swift minutes with the same playfulness and vibrancy we’ve grown accustomed for generations. Her totally engaging 11-member cast has carefully studied their animated predecessors to the tee. In fact, try not to smile when these committed actors, choreographed by Rodney Veal, dance in classic “Peanuts” fashion to Vince Guaraldi’s toe-tapping “Linus and Lucy” complete with overgrown bass for Pig Pen. Even so, the cast doesn’t merely take the stage as copycats. Although their dialogue and actions may be familiar, they’re still able to find a path into these relatable if occasionally snarky characters and make them their own whether overtly or with gentle, humorous nuance.
The very endearing Woody Hieb brings great honesty and sensitivity to worrisome Charlie, whose reflective journey remains impactful. Audience favorite A.J. Breslin displays outstanding physicality and comedic timing as colorful, energetic and mischievous Snoopy. Anna Sheldon is fittingly sharp and sassy as bratty Lucy. As the kindhearted Linus, Greyson Calvert specifically injects warmth and tenderness into the aforementioned biblical recitation, the poignant hallmark of the cartoon and this production. Matt Poliachik (Pig Pen), Sade Oyeyemi (Frieda), Austin DeVaughn (Schroeder), Sha-Lamar Davis (Violet), Haven Bradem (Sally), Rebecca Henry (Patty), and Naman Clark (Shermy) distinctively connect to their roles with personable flavor. DeVaughn in particular hilariously glares at Sheldon when Schroeder becomes exasperated with Lucy’s inability to correctly identify Christmas carols.
After nearly 50 years, “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” delightfully concluding with wintry atmospherics and sing-a-long, still resonates as a charming look at the power of friendship and goodwill.
“A Charlie Brown Christmas” continues through Dec. 20 in Blair Hall Theatre, Building 2, of Sinclair Community College, 444 W. Third St., Dayton. Performances are Friday at 7 p.m., and Saturday at 2, 4 and 7 p.m. The production is performed in 30 minutes. Tickets are $8. For tickets or more information, call (937) 512-2808 or visit www.sinclair.edu/tickets. Also, a special “shadowing” ASL performance is slated for the Friday performance (interpreters follow actors onstage while interpreting instead of being located off to the side of the action); In addition, Sinclair’s regular house policy stating “no children under 6” has been lifted for the show’s run.