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TOY brings Charlie Brown to colorful live-action life

Theatre of Youth's "A Charlie Brown Christmas" is exactly that: a live re-enactment of the animated television program that was inspired by a popular comic strip.

Charlie Brown has been picking out his sad little "real" Christmas tree for more than 50 years, which more than qualifies the story as a holiday classic, and it is impressive to see how well the story holds up.

Way back in 1965, people were worried that Christmas was becoming too commercial, and that the emphasis on "getting" was as artificial as the shiny aluminum trees that filled the lot where the round-headed kid winds up.

The dozen young actors in the show probably grew up with the show, just like their parents, and they are incredibly sweet as the whole Peanuts gang. Dan Urtz plays Charlie Brown to the "Charlie Browniest," with Lucas Denies as Linus, also insecure but more grounded thanks to his trusted blanket.

Shawn Michael Edward Robinson clearly has watched the piano dancing scenes a lot, doing Shermy's hunched shoulder steps to perfection, and Arin Lee Dandes, recently seen at TOY as Piggie in "Elephant & Piggie's We Are in a Play," takes excellent charge as Lucy.

Daniel Torres, from TOY's "Charlotte's Web" and "Shakespeare Stealer," hits the keys as Schroeder, and Brittany Bassett is a cute and snotty Violet. Kurt Guba dons the Snoopy suit, Sabrina Kahwaty is Sally of the long gift wish list, Dominique Kempf is Patty, Colleen Pine is Frieda, with her naturally curly hair, and Preston D. Williams dusts it up as Pig Pen.

It's a long list, but they all deserve credit for their charming performances.

Credit also goes to set designer Kenneth Shaw and to wardrobe master Barbara Piore for the cute costumes, especially the little girls' colorful shirtwaist dresses, complete with that cartoon flair.

Shaw's theater magic is on display right from the start, as the show opening with the cast gliding across the stage on real ice skates. They swirl and race and bobble, all in a genuine and slippery way, and after the show how they do it is all explained.

And then there's the music. The live ensemble seated stage left is a treat, with Brian DeJesus on bass, Paul Scottnik on piano and Jamie Sunshine playing drums. The 10-year-old with me, who loves music, thought they were just about the best part of the show.

One effect that loses a little something in translation is the scene when Linus takes center stage to explain what Christmas is all about. Denies's microphone wasn't picking up his voice as well as it could have as he recited the scripture from Luke, Chapter 2.

Kids still will be more excited about the tiny Tannenbaum that gets the glitzy makeover, well-executed here with a little sleight of hand, and it all wraps up with a quick carol sing-along. Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown.


"A Charlie Brown Christmas"

3.5 stars (out of four)

A well-done 40-minute live adaptation of the popular animated Christmas story that delivers the true meaning of Christmas through the rebirth of a now-iconic little tree. Presented by Theatre of Youth at the Allendale Theatre, 203 Allen St., through Dec. 17. For tickets, or call 884-4404, ext. 304.

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