Review: 'A Charlie Brown Christmas' by Warner Stage Company

Nancy Sasso Janis

  • Connecticut Critic
  • Connecticut Critics Circle

“Christmas time is here / Happiness and cheer / Fun for all that children call / Their favorite time of the year…”

Torrington, CT - ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ is back at the Warner’s Nancy Marine Studio Theatre. Two years ago, 2,000 people came to the theatre to see the show and interact with the characters afterward. Meredith Porri is back as its director and choreographer, jazz musician TJ Thompson is back as its music director, and the executive in charge of production Sharon A. Wilcox is just as happy as the rest of us about all of the above. “So here we are, once again, with Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the rest of the Peanuts Gang celebrating another holiday season and embracing friendship, kindness and the true meaning of Christmas,’” writes the Warner’s executive director Lynn Gelormino. 

The short show is based upon the television special by Bill Melendez and Lee Mendelson that first aired in 1965 with the stage adaptation by Eric Schaeffer. It brings to life the special we all remember quite faithfully, so much so that we well know many of the lines spoken by a new group of talented actors. The adorable costumes by Renee C. Purdy capture the flavor of the cartoon versions and wigs by Meredith Porri were equally well-done. Light and sound were both professional, and the projections set the scene well. 

The Charlie Brown Jazz Combo at the corner of the stage is led by Mr. Thompson on piano/keyboard, Michael Louchen on upright bass and James Allen on drums. They warm up the audience with Christmas tunes and then cover the classic score perfectly. 

This new cast brought a young vibe to the roles, although all but two are adults. Caitlin Barra takes on the role of the bossy Lucy with perfect diction and also made her debut as lighting designer. Sean Collins returns to the stage after a ten-year hiatus to play the beloved Pig Pen. Josh Newey, now having played six leading roles at the Warner, wears the trademark black zig zags (and wobbly skates) as one of his favorite childhood characters, Charlie Brown. Good grief, he is adorable. Fifteen year old Morgan Rinaldi looked like she was having a wonderful time playing Patty and gave a memorable performance. 

Dancer Malie Louise Grasmere reprised her role as Snoopy and honestly I can’t imagine anyone else in the role; her stamp on the dancing beagle is priceless. Cassie Martin made her Warner debut as Violet, and will be part of the ensemble of the upcoming main stage production of ‘The Who’s Tommy.’ Stacie Tessman (‘Hello, Dolly!’) played Freida and the always terrific Jonathan Zalaski was an adorable Shermy, the one who dances with his arms straight out in front of him. Zachary Taylor, a graduate of the American Musical & Dramatic Academy in NYC, did well with the comedy and poignancy in the role of Linus. 

And it turns out that the entire Porri family was a part of this charming production. Ms. Porri donned the blonde curls to play Charlie Brown’s adoring sister Sally and her talented husband Dan Porri sat behind the onstage piano to play Schroeder. The fact that Mr. Porri often serves as a music director made watching him play “Jingle Bells” with one finger for Lucy quite ironic. Making her Warner Stage debut was the adorable five-month-old Cecilia Porri in the role of Woodstock. Since she had already brought her parents to all their rehearsals, the production staff decided to give her a part. Carried onstage by Snoopy and dressed in a bright yellow one-piece ensemble, she was a very convincing little bird in her first onstage appearance, with many more to follow to be sure. 

There is a sing-a-long following the performance and then the characters move to the lobby for a meet and greet and coloring for the youngest patrons. Miss Porri might even pose for a photo if you ask her nicely. ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ continues next weekend Saturday at 1pm, 4pm and 7pm and Sunday at 1pm and 4pm. 

Photo Credit: Mandi Martini
©2016 The Warner Theatre