Holiday traditions are passed down from generation to generation. They are constant and they provide a familiar element to the season. These customs range from eating a certain type of food, going to a particular place or performing ceremonies -- or even watching Christmas specials on TV.
And one of the more well-known holiday specials is being brought to life by the theater troupe New Stage Players. The organization presents “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” directed by Tim Hess.
“If you know the TV show, then you should know the show inside out,” said Hess. “Sally’s conversation about her list for Santa, Snoopy decorated his house, Schroeder and Lucy at the piano and all those little set pieces that are in the special are onstage.”
The theater adaptation rarely takes any narrative liberties from the original story based on the comic strip “Peanuts,” by Charles M. Schulz. Good ol’ Charlie Brown is rather down during Christmastime as he struggles to define the true meaning of Christmas while also directing a school play, which is ridiculed by his peers who are more interested in creating a bombastic show and asking Santa for money on their Christmas lists.
The play, which opens Friday (Dec. 16) at the Cardinal Conference Center in South Sioux City, will run just about as long as the original Christmas special that was released on CBS in 1965, and remained on air every year since then.
“A Charlie Brown Christmas” is predominantly acted out by children in middle school and elementary school. The oldest actor, a high schooler, stars as Snoopy. The show is a stark contrast to New Stage Players’ previous show, “Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding,” which had a primarily adult-aged cast.
“We got a lot of goals and one of the things we promised ourselves and everybody else is that we’re going to do stuff for kids,” said Hess, who serves on the New Stage Players’ board of directors. “Some of it will likely be adults performing shows for children, but also allow opportunities for children to be exposed to [theater].”
Hess, 52, guessed that he’s seen “A Charlie Brown Christmas” just about every time the Christmas special aired on TV. He added that directing the show and seeing the characters being brought to life onstage has been a great experience.
“There’s something special about these kids who are 8, 9, 10 or 12 years old and are saying the words you’ve heard for years,” said Hess. “Even without telling them how to say it, their natural instincts make it sound like the TV show. Those moments that hit you all the way through the show just bring it to life right before your eyes.”
The “Peanuts” characters have spanned generations and never seem to disappear after so many years, which Hess said helps bring out the child in everybody. And the TV special’s message still rings true in the play adaptation. Hess added that watching his young actors discover the thrill of success during rehearsals has been rewarding.
“There’s a moment where kids are doing theater and they find that success that really hits you,” he said. “And I feel something that I really can’t put into words. When young people are having fun and being successful at something they didn’t know they could do. When they get to that curtain call at the end, it’s overwhelming. It’s sweet and wonderful. And that combined with this project magnifies that a little bit.”