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What is the Holiday Season without Santa, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and... Charlie Brown?

By Bruce Chadwick

originally published: 11/21/2023

What is the Holiday Season without Santa, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and... Charlie Brown?

Yes, yes, yes, Charlie Brown and his cartoon gang have become as much a part of the holiday season as the others in the musical A Charlie Brown Christmas. This weekend, Charlie and his crew will once again stage their musical story, on Friday, November 24th (two shows) at the Count Basie Center for the Arts in Red Bank and on Sunday, November 26th (two shows) at the Mayo Performing Arts Center (MPAC) in Morristown.

The story in the show has captured peoples’ hearts for generations, In it, cartoon hero Charlie Brown, disgusted with the commercialization of Christmas, sets out, with his pals, to rediscover the true meaning of Christmas.

The show first aired as a television special back in 1965 and is on Apple TV now each year. Why has it endured for such a long, long time?

Several reasons, according to Todd Gershwin, who has been the producer of the show for several years now.

“I think that over the years all of the characters in the show – the Peanuts family - have grown on people since they were kids and are today part of our extended families,” said Gershwin. “You love them as kids and that love stays with you as you get older and have your own kids, and grandkids. You would not believe how many grandparents bring their grandkids to our show. So it’s this generational thing. The parents saw it and take their kids. Likewise with grandparents. You like the show and want to share that like with your family.”

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Gershwin, now 49, saw the show on television as a child and fell in love with it. He kept watching it over the years and jumped at the chance to be its producer. ”I think all of us in the show, collectively, celebrate the holidays together. We help all the people in the audience fall in love with Christmas all over again each year,” he said.

In addition to the generational pull of the show, there is the music. “The music appeals to adults as much as it does to children. It is simple, yet beautiful,” he said.

What is the Holiday Season without Santa, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and... Charlie Brown?

He also thinks the show is sort of therapeutic medicine for Americans. “We live in troubled times and the show helps to make life better. We have problems, yes, but we also have the Christmas holidays and help Charlie Brown celebrate them. The show calms the world down a bit,” he said.

The show is on a 36 city tour that ends just before New Year’s.

The problem the show has had for years is that it is based on a 30-minute TV special. Too short.

“The early producers solved the problem by expanding the basic story, enhancing the characters and plot. They also added a twenty minute or so holiday song concert at the end of the show. Now, altogether, that show runs about 90 minutes, the length of most shows. In the 90 minutes, you get the story and a lot of good music.”

The music is played by a trio of musicians in holiday costumes. “They blend in nicely and the audience just sees them as part of the stage family,” said Gershwin.

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The actors like working in the show. The majority of the performers in this year’s show played those same roles on the tour last year.

What is the Holiday Season without Santa, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and... Charlie Brown?

“I think that the overall appeal to the audience is America simplified and happy and that is the appeal to the actors also. We have enhanced the choreography of the show, too, and a lot of people enjoy that, too,” said Gershwin.

Television helps. “All the characters in the Charlie Brown stories are quite familiar to everybody. We want to see them again and again, no matter how old we are,” Gershwin added.

So open your presents early because here comes Charlie Brown and the gang.

For tickets to the performances at Count Basie Center for the Arts in Red Bank, click here. For tickets to the performances at Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown, click here.

What is the Holiday Season without Santa, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and... Charlie Brown?

Bruce Chadwick worked for 23 years as an entertainment writer/critic for the New York Daily News. Later, he served as the arts and entertainment critic for the History News Network, a national online weekly magazine. Chadwick holds a Ph. D in History and Cultural Studies from Rutgers University. He has written 31 books on U.S. history and has lectured on history and culture around the world. He is a history professor at New Jersey City University.



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