ORLEANS — Don’t miss the Academy of Performing Arts production of “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” In this screen-dominated world, the short musical is an antidote for iPhone ennui — or obsession. Directed by Peter Earle from Eric Schaeffer’s stage adaptation of the TV special inspired by Charles Schulz, the play could make even the the crankiest Scrooge nostalgic.
Vince Guaraldi’s soundtrack from “A Charlie Brown Christmas” fills the theater as audience members take their seats; a scrim with simple drawings comprises the set.
Eleven young actors take the stage, “skating” across the floor, hands clasped behind their backs, twirling as they sing Guaraldi’s “Christmas Time is Here.” Peter Earle’s directing is so deft that one doesn’t notice it, but the actors move and speak with such authority that it’s evident they’ve worked hard and been well coached. They speak clearly and project loudly enough even for baby boomers. Their dancing, joyful and lighthearted, mimics the opening number in the original.
Without being wooden, Lucie Jackett conveys Schroeder’s resignation in the face of Lucy’s badgering. It is not easy to portray boredom without being boring, but Jackett succeeds. Stella Cole catches Lucy’s edge while managing to make her an endearing little bossy pants.
Mac Collins convincingly portrays Charlie Brown in various moods of hopelessness, determination, and optimism. The trick with this role is to make the “Charlie Brownie-est” person, as Linus calls him, win our hearts in spite of his failures. Collins’ impeccable work as the central character carries the play to success; the viewer can identify with Charlie Brown and pity him at the same time.
Meadow Clark as Violet, Mya Neale as Sally, Molly Filteau as Molly, Elizabeth Mayer as Pig-pen, Sophia Cole as Frieda (she of naturally curly hair), and Annika van der Wende as Patty provide the foils for their cohort. Their concentration and preparation shows their understanding of ensemble participation and enables the other actors to shine.
Deprived of dialogue, Helen Currier, the human who plays Snoopy the dog, skillfully used physicality to portray Snoopy’s insouciance, mischievousness, and joy.
Matthias Santos delivers Linus’s monologue, a recitation from the second chapter of Luke, flawlessly. It’s a lot to memorize, and it’s about as explicitly Christian as theater gets. As the text from which we get “Peace on earth, good will to all men,” the message is ecumenical and universal and draws attention to the origins of the Christmas holiday without banging it on our heads.
Credit must go to the tech crew for a show that relies on precise sound effects. The scene with Schroeder and Lucy involves a back and forth of lines and piano playing, and it goes off without a hitch. More difficult to achieve is the tinkling that plays each time Charlie Brown’s pathetic Christmas tree loses some of its needles.
At the end of the show, Peter Earle gathers young audience members to read “A Visit from St. Nicholas” by Clement Clark Moore. Cast members, seated around him, perform as reindeer and shake their antlers at appropriate lines. Elizabeth Mayer, previously appearing as Pig-pen, arrives as Santa Claus and acts out portions of the poem.
There’s something in this play for adults as well as children. The arc in this play goes from Charlie Brown’s disenchantment with a world that commercializes Christmas and worships glitz to an experience of the transformative power of love shown when his friends come together to rehabilitate the tree that Charlie selected precisely because it was unattractive and needed to be loved.
The Academy’s production of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is a retreat from a hectic, consumerist holiday season. It offers a rare opportunity to hear “A Visit from St. Nicholas” read aloud and to experience accessible theater. Most children can sit quietly and happily for the duration of the show, which runs well under an hour, including the reading of Moore’s poem. Heart-warming for adults and entertaining for children, the production can set the tone for this holiday season and create a standard for Christmases to come.
The show runs until Dec. 30. Show times are 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Box office: 508-255-1963; www.apacape.org.