Chandler Youth Theater to perform classic Christmas musical SanTan Sun News

Chandler Youth Theater to perform classic Christmas musical

December 17th, 2018 development
Chandler Youth Theater to perform classic Christmas musical
Arts
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By COLLEEN SPARKS, Managing Editor

The sweet sounds of boys and girls singing holiday melodies and dancing in a lighthearted, zany fashion associated with the popular Peanuts gang characters is expected to generate laughter and tug at the heartstrings when Chandler Youth Theater performs an iconic musical.
Chandler Youth Theater will deliver “A Charlie Brown Christmas” musical, based off the TV special featuring Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy, Linus and the other familiar childhood, colorful characters Dec. 15 and 16 and Dec. 22 and 23 at ImprovMANIA Comedy Club at 250 S. Arizona Ave.
The youth theater is part of ImprovMANIA Comedy Club, a business opened in September 2014 where children, teens and adults can take improv comedy classes and perform in shows.
The 1965 TV “A Charlie Brown Christmas” special is based off the late Charles M. Schulz’s comic strip “Peanuts” featuring the loveable “blockhead” Charlie Brown, his feisty dog Snoopy and the other young characters who at times pick on Charlie Brown and other times support him.
Generations have made it an annual tradition to watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” which tells the tale of underdog Brown. He feels depressed during the holiday season, so Lucy recommends he direct a neighborhood Christmas play.
He takes her advice, but the children in the play do not cooperate, often taking breaks from rehearsals to dance and goof around. The kids also criticize Brown’s choice of a tiny Christmas tree with few needles. The show ends on a high note, though, after Linus tells him the true meaning of Christmas. The Peanuts gang then rallies around Brown to celebrate the season.
A cast of 14 fourth- through ninth-graders with different levels of experience delivered the well-known lines, danced and played some instruments – an alto saxophone, a makeshift drum and a tiny piano – during a recent rehearsal. Though the TV special debuted decades before these youths were born, they expertly adopted the characters’ personalities, including Lucy’s bossiness, Brown’s frustration and sadness and Sally’s love for Linus.
Two casts are performing “A Charlie Brown Christmas” at Chandler Youth Theater, with one older and the other a younger group. About 30 kids altogether are in the different shows, and they range in age from 6 to 16.
Audrey Pfeifer, director of Chandler Youth Theater and “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” kept the cast focused, offered praise and encouragement, and allowed the young actors to experiment with their lines and actions during the recent rehearsal. Music Director Maya Chavez also gave the cast directions and helped them when they forgot lines or needed guidance with playing a song.
Pfeifer is working on her bachelor’s degree in theater and a certificate in secondary education at Arizona State University. Chavez is studying arts at Rio Salado College and then plans to get a bachelor’s degree in film and media studies.
“I just think it’s a really wholesome show,” Pfeifer said. “It’s a classic. They’re very enthusiastic. … They’re just so excited about the work they’re doing.”
She said the older cast was asked to delve more deeply into the script and asked them to dissect the text and focus on “what the piece is saying rather than the final product.”
Pfeifer has a lot of acting and musical experience under her belt. She acted and composed and performed music for ASU Mainstage Productions of “She Kills Monsters” and “Brooklyn Bridge,” in which she was nominated for an ariZoni as Best Supporting Actress in a Play. Pfeifer also worked as a performer, deviser and musical composer for Vessel’s production of “Conference of the Birds,” which premiered at the Unexpected Gallery in Phoenix.
Students paid to participate in “A Charlie Brown Christmas” at Chandler Youth Theater musical so all were accepted to perform, but they auditioned for the specific parts. Some students are “good at singing or dancing or acting or they’re funny,” so they are placed in the roles to which they are best suited, said David Specht, co-owner of ImprovMANIA Comedy Club. He and his wife, Colleen Specht, are comedians who co-own the comedy club and co-own Chandler Youth Theater.
The children and teens began rehearsing for “A Charlie Brown Christmas” in October.
“It’s really kind of perfect, and everybody’s got some nostalgia that goes with it,” David said. “Our venue is kind of custom-made for it. It’s small. We make it really intimate and the audience is really, really close to the action. This one’s really kind of a classic.”
Chandler 12-year-old Tyler Kuehn, a seventh-grader at Bogle Junior High, plays Brown in one of the casts. He has also performed different roles at other local theaters, and he performed in “Willy Wonka Jr.” at Chandler Youth Theater previously.
“This musical’s really cool,” Kuehn said. “It’s a cool part because I get to explore depression in a young kid. Many people can relate. The cartoon’s pretty cool. My parents are big fans.”
He said the musical offers a good lesson about how “friends can lead the way” and cheer up someone who starts out “not very happy.”
Chandler 10-year-old Whitney Pierzga, a fifth-grader at Chandler Traditional Academy–Independence, plays Lucy. She’s also performed in other theater companies.
“I really enjoy this place a lot,” Pierzga said. “I love playing Lucy. She’s definitely an odd character. I love theater. I do love this movie.”
Her older sister, Alina Pierzga, 12, plays Sally in the musical.
“My sister, she is like full-on in musical theater,” Whitney said. “It’s fun to see her really happy. She’s a great role model.”
Dominic D’Amico, 11, a sixth-grader at Knox Gifted Academy, brought lots of energy and humor to his role as Snoopy. He wore a white dog costume with floppy ears and played part of the classic, jazz song “Linus and Lucy” popularized by the Vince Guaraldi Trio on his alto saxophone in one scene, where another boy playing Schroeder banged away on a small piano and another boy in the cast drummed with drumsticks onto a pad on a chair. D’Amico said he enjoys playing the feisty dog.
“It’s fun,” D’Amico said. “He’s funny, and he does the funny things that people wouldn’t expect in a lot of cases.”
He said he has performed in the other Chandler Youth Theater shows – “Willy Wonka, Jr.,” “Peter Pan Jr.” and “Shrek Jr.” The Chandler Youth Theater plans to perform “Annie Jr.” next year.
“We’ve had some kids who have been in every play,” David said. “It’s a pretty welcoming community. We’ve only been doing this less than a year. It’s been great.”
All the Chandler Youth Theater shows are sold out, so he recommends buying tickets for “A Charlie Brown Christmas” in advance. To buy tickets and more, visit ImprovMania.net.

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