Olympia Family Theater is technically a children’s theater company.
The company tries — as its name implies — to appeal to the whole family. But when you come down to it, most of its shows are aimed squarely at those too young to drive.
“A Charlie Brown Christmas,” a theatrical version of the beloved animated special that in turn was based on Charles Schulz’s comic strip, is the exception to the rule. The show opens Friday (Nov. 27), and two performances have already sold out.
“I had a phone call from someone asking, ‘How long is the play?’ ” said Jen Ryle, the theater’s artistic director and the play’s director. “She said, ‘For our office party, we’re all going to come.’
“She called back a little later and bought 48 tickets.”
Of course, the show — following the adventures of the hapless Charlie, his daredevil Beagle Snoopy and a host of others — is kid friendly.
It’s short, has little dialog, features mostly lovable child characters and teaches a sweet lesson about the season’s simple pleasures.
And kids are likely to know the characters from the TV version of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and perhaps from the film “Peanuts,” released this month.
But the people who’ve lived with and loved Linus, Pigpen, Peppermint Patty and the rest of the ’nuts — and maybe have loved to hate Lucy, Charlie’s nemesis — are grown-ups.
“It’s one of those things,” Ryle said. “We all grew up with it. As Snoopy’s doghouse comes out, you go, ‘Ohhh!’ or as the little tree comes out, you go, ‘Ohhh!’ ”
Schulz’s comic strip debuted in 1950 and continued till 2000, with the last strip running on Feb. 13, the day after the cartoonist’s death. (The strips you read now are reruns.)
It’s been called the most influential comic of all time. “Peanuts pretty much defines the modern comic strip,” Calvin & Hobbes creator Bill Watterson told the Wall Street Journal in 2007. “In countless ways, Schulz blazed the wide trail that most every cartoonist since has tried to follow.”
And “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” the hero’s first special, debuted 50 years ago, on Nov. 9, 1965. Producers expected the special — with its slow pace, solemn look at the commercialization of Christmas and jazz score by pianist Vince Guaraldi — to flop, but it won an Emmy Award and a Peabody Award. It continues to be a holiday staple today.
Olympia Family Theater’s timing for releasing the show — at the 50th anniversary and during the run of the film, which is getting good reviews and doing well at the box office— seems uncannily good.
It is, in fact, pure coincidence. The theatrical script was released in late 2013, and Ryle heard about the script too late to put it in the theater’s 2014-15 season.
The play is about an hour long, including intermission. How did Ryle and her actors turn a 22-minute TV special into 45 minutes on stage?
The cast — led by Isaac McKenzie Sullivan as Charlie Brown and Jesse Morrow as Snoopy, both newcomers to the theater — gets a chance to expand on what’s in the script.
“These characters have been around for 50 years and have had lots of interaction and relations through the comic strip,” Ryle said. “There’s lots more richness to them than just the words on the page.”
And Guaraldi’s music — played by the theater’s music director, pianist Stephanie Claire, along with Matthew Fearon on bass and percussionist Theresa McKenzie Sullivan — provides a score for the action.
“It sounds exactly like the jazz combo you heard on the record,” Ryle said. “If you grew up listening to this music, it’s really cool to hear it live.”
A Charlie Brown Christmas
What: Olympia Family Theater’s holiday play is a live version of the beloved holiday special about a boy, a dog and a sad little tree.
When: 7 p.m. Friday (Nov. 27), plus Dec. 4, 11 and 18; 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday plus Dec. 5-6, 12-13 and 19-20. (The shows Saturday and Sunday are sold out.)
Where: Olympia Family Theater, 612 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia.
Tickets: $19; $16 for students, seniors and military; $13 for youths (12 and younger). Available at olyft.org or at the box office. For the Dec. 4 performance, pay what you can; tickets for that performance are available only at the box office beginning at noon the day of the show.
Information: 360-570-1638, olyft.org.