It may have been produced 57 years ago, but the 1965 animated special “A Charlie Brown Christmas” remains a beloved part of the holiday season.
Now Sudbury Performance Group is getting in on the act, presenting “A Charlie Brown Christmas: Live on Stage,” a 2013 stage adaptation of the cartoon.
You can catch the production at the Ernie Checkeris Theatre at Thorneloe University on Dec. 9, 10, 11, 15, 16 and 17. Saturday and Sunday matinees are at 1:30 p.m., and evening shows are at 6:30 p.m.
Act 1 will include the live stage adaptation, and Act 2 involves a Christmas sing-a-long and a visit by Santa himself.
This is the first time Sudbury Performance Group has presented a holiday production.
Cast members include Steve Maguire as Charlie Brown, Lindsay Dainton as Snoopy, Jack Jones as Linus, Kristin Hall as Lucy, Angel Mannisto as Sally Brown, Kalem Mahaffy as Pig Pen, Brent Smith as Schroeder, Cheyanne Monk as Peppermint Patty and Rebecca Lecour Freida.
The production’s director, Mark Mannisto, said for the parents and grandparents of today, “when you think of Christmas, you just can't help but think of ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’.”
People find such meaning in the cartoon that they’re now passing it onto the next generation.
“So it was almost a no-brainer,” Mannisto said. “In doing our very first family friendly holiday production, we wanted something that everybody related to.”
“A Charlie Brown Christmas” has several themes, including looking past over-commercialization to find the true meaning of Christmas, and realizing that not everyone enjoys the holiday season.
Mannisto said he was reading recently that CBS, the television network behind the special, objected to the religious aspect of “A Charlie Brown Christmas”, but Peanuts creator Charles Schultz stuck to his guns.
CBS also thought the cartoon would be a ratings disaster because of its jazz score, slow pace and lack of laugh track. But when it premiered on Dec. 9, 1965, it was viewed by 45 per cent of those watching television that evening.
It's still aired on TV every year, and has received both an Emmy and Peabody Award. The jazz soundtrack sold four million copies in the United States.
In 2016, Sudbury.com interviewed Jerry Granelli, who was then the only surviving member of the Vince Guaraldi Trio, which recorded the soundtrack to “A Charlie Brown Christmas” television special. You can read that story here.
Sadly, Granelli passed away in 2021.
Mannisto said while the special’s soundtrack is jazz music and mostly doesn’t have lyrics, “as soon as you hear the music, you think Christmas.”
He said Act 1 of “A Charlie Brown Christmas: Live on Stage” is true to the Christmas special, including your favourite characters, and, of course, the aforementioned soundtrack from the Vince Guaraldi Trio.
Beyond the original soundtrack, there is one additional song penned in 2014 for the stage adaptation. If you remember the cartoon, Charlie Brown comes back with a small, runty Christmas tree, prompting jeers from his friends.
The new track is “all about how the Christmas tree is so much like Charlie Brown himself. And it just adds just an extra, a beautiful extra touch to the show,” Mannisto said.
Act 2 of “A Charlie Brown Christmas: Live on Stage” is “a family Christmas sing along with the cast,” along with some local youth. The words to the Christmas tunes will be projected on an overhead screen so everyone can sing along.
“Plus, rumor has it that Santa Claus is going to be making an early stop here in Sudbury,” said Mannisto.
To make sure even the youngest theatre-goers can take in the show, Sudbury Performance Group is starting its evening shows at 6:30 p.m., “so that’s nice and early for the little guys.”
“It's just going to be such a fun evening out for young and old alike,” said Mannisto. “It's just a really great way to kick off the holiday season.”
Tickets, which cost $20 for general admission, are already selling out for some performances, so Mannisto suggests people buy their tickets sooner than later. Purchase tickets online here or phone 705-662-8518.
Heidi Ulrichsen is Sudbury.com’s associate content editor. She also covers education and the arts scene.