Some of Missoula’s favorite performers are transforming into the beloved Peanuts Gang and bringing the magic of the holidays to local kids as they put on a special presentation of “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
Missoula Children’s Theatre is partnering with the Fort Peck Summer Theatre for a series of sold-out benefit shows to raise money for youth programs Dec. 21 and 23 at MCT.
The cast includes familiar faces from both MCT and the Fort Peck Summer Theatre. The iconic characters are brought to life by Haley Alexa Court as Lucy, Andy Nelson as Linus, Bridget Smith as Sally, Jay Michael Robert as Schroeder, Sydney Hayward as Frieda, Megan Wiltshire as Snoopy and Laramie Dean as Charlie Brown.
Andy Meyers doubles as both director and Pigpen, Charlie’s hygiene-lacking friend.
“Pigpen has the most time off stage, so that makes it easier to direct and choreograph,” he said, adding that his costume features clouds of dust and details of dirt.
He said the hardest role is Snoopy because you’re playing a dog who has to speak through expressions and emotions rather than words. Meyers said Wiltshire, who is the director at On Center Performing Arts in Missoula, is perfect for the part.
“She just sort of has an open book to do some acrobatics, she’s roller skating at one point,” he said. “Megan is so much fun and she just goes for it.”
The show is in the genre of “Theatre for Young Audiences,” in which adults perform for kids, Meyers said.
“‘Theatre for Young Audiences’ is about engaging young audiences and getting them excited about the arts,” he said. “We’re doing a piece like Charlie Brown that actually has quite a strong message in it as opposed to just being entertainment.”
The cartoon classic adapted for stage follows Charlie Brown as he tries to find the true meaning of Christmas. He eventually takes on the role of director of his school’s Christmas pageant, a challenge from Lucy, and attempts to restore the holiday spirit.
Despite Charlie Brown’s mopey disposition, he’s quite motivated and determined.
“Charlie Brown is actually very helpful,” said Dean, director of theater at Hellgate High School. “He’s trying very hard to find what Christmas really means, and even though his friends are really mean to him and his dog is mean to him and everyone’s mean to him, he keeps going and going and going.”
Dean said he hadn’t performed in a show for years until taking on the role of Charlie Brown. He’s also a cast member in MCT’s "Seussical," running through Dec. 22. As a theater teacher, he said it’s important to dive back into actually doing your craft.
“It’s good experience to practice the art that you are teaching,” he said, adding that several of his students are coming to see him in the show.
The adult performers are playing a group of kids, something Meyers said can be tricky because you don’t want to just be characters.
“We have to play these kids with such honesty so they’re relatable and so their struggles and intentions are relatable to kids.”
Proceeds from the sold-out shows go to youth programming at Fort Peck Summer Theatre and MCT, which both Dean and Meyers said is a win-win for the audience and organizations.
“It feels nice to know that not only are we getting to do the show, but it will have an immediate benefit,” Meyers said. “Even these little ripples will fund a whole children’s program for us in the spring.”
Dean agreed, adding that people are starting to recognize the importance of theater and the arts, especially for kids.
“We spend a lot of time talking about the validity of the arts, and it’s really such a human thing,” Dean said. “There’s so much live theater in Missoula, and we’re really fortunate to have that and to be able to show kids early on.”