Practice makes perfect, an axiom well demonstrated by this year’s production of A Charlie Brown Christmas presented by Fort Wayne Youtheatre. Having staged the show last year, it was hard to imagine how they might top an already delightful and entertaining show, but somehow they managed to do it.
The set itself is a stylish accomplishment. The eye-catcher is the large TV which at first glance looks like a charming nod to the kind of old, boxy sets most families had in the 1960s when A Charlie Brown Christmas first aired. But it turns out to be much more, providing projected images which beautifully augment the storyline. It also provides an immediate practical purpose, with the actors taking the stage alongside the images of which iconic and familiar Peanuts character they’re portraying.
It would be easy to get confused with so many on the stage and only the cartoon faces in our collective memory, and that quick introduction is very helpful. (Of course, the shirts they wear with their characters’ faces is pretty handy, too.)
One of the highlights of last year’s performances was the jazz trio on stage to play the fantastic and beloved Vince Guaraldi music, instantly recognizable from radio airplay. Having the trio — Ben Wedler on piano, Dan Katter on drums and Tom Neumann on bass — on stage to accompany the show is the perfect touch, and they seem to be even more prominently featured this year than last, including some fun interplay between them and Charlie Brown during rehearsals of the Christmas show.
Christopher Murphy’s direction is once again spot on, and his notes in the program were extremely entertaining while settling in before the show began. His cast not only showcases how capable he is in his role but how well-taught the young students of Fort Wayne Youtheatre and area schools are.
Harley Babbitt once again shines as Charlie Brown, providing the perfect guileless and yet hopeful charm you want to see in the Peanuts intrepid hero. Lana Thompson is well-suited to Lucy, particularly nailing the flirtation with Schroeder (played by Bobby Way). If anyone might come close to stealing the show, it’s Margaret Gaughan as Snoopy, which seems only fair since Snoopy tends to steal the show in every animated classic of the Peanuts series.
Murphy and the cast wring every bit of comedy out of the piece, which features all of the great lines from the 1965 original but also some added vignettes from other Peanuts material (including one of the funnier scenes from It’s Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown). The laughter of the children filling the First Presbyterian Theater proved that A Charlie Brown Christmas is a welcome repeat performance for Fort Wayne Youtheatre and will hopefully return in the years to come.