The prospect of directing and choreographing a cast of nearly 30 school children, and making sure they get everything right, isn’t at all daunting to AshleySimone Kirchner.
“By the end of the rehearsal process I really trust them,” said Kirchner, who’s in charge of the Park Playhouse production of “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” scheduled for two performances Saturday and one Sunday at the Palace Theatre in Albany.
“I know they’ll go out there on stage and do a great job. My favorite thing is to work with students. I learn as much from them as they do from me.”
‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’
WHERE: A Park Playhouse production at the Palace Theatre, 19 Clinton Ave., Albany
WHEN: 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $20, children 12 and under free
MORE INFO: 465-3334, www.palacealbany.com
The stage production of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” was adapted by Eric Schaeffer from the animated television special based on the comic strip “Peanuts,” by Charles M. Schulz. Produced by Lee Mendelson and directed by Bill Melendez, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” made its debut on CBS on December 9, 1965.
“It’s a pretty faithful adaptation, and the story and the dialogue is what you would expect,” said Owen Smith, producing artistic director of Park Playhouse.
“Given that the television special was only 25 minutes, the stage production had to be bulked up a little bit with some more dialogue and holiday music. It’s not the cartoon, but you can get lost in the stage production pretty well, too.”
Typically an outdoor summer theater troupe in Albany’s Washington Park in 1989, Park Playhouse began its collaboration with the Palace Theatre two years ago. The group also put together a production of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” last year at the Palace.
“We had a really nice production last year, and it’s almost an entirely different group of kids this year,” said Smith, who took over the reins of Park Playhouse in 2010.
“We do have a year-round program now for students, and many of them have already spent time with our summer program. We probably had around 50 kids come out to audition for this show which was great, but we had to get it down to 30. It’s quite a challenge to get 30 kids ready for the ice-skating sequence that opens the show, but AshleySimone can pull it off.”
Kirchner, who grew up in central Pennsylvania outside of Harrisburg, first performed at Park Playhouse in its 2010 production of “Annie Get Your Gun.” She moved to the Albany area to take a full-time position with Park Playhouse in the fall of 2014.
“As soon as I saw that ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ was an option last year I was excited to create my own new take on this Christmas classic,” said Kirchner, who graduated from Marymount Manhattan College as a dance major.
“I had seen the TV show growing up and had always loved ‘Peanuts.’ Last year was the first time I ever saw it on stage and I really fell in love with it.”
The role of Charlie Brown is being played by Heather Pangburn, a sophomore at Columbia High School.
“I knew she understood the character from her audition song, which was about loss of friendship and navigating difficult teenage relationships,” Kirchner said of Pangburn.
“The way she sang that song I knew she’d be great for the part of Charlie Brown, even though she’s a girl. She’s not too mopey and she’s still likable. She walks that line perfectly.”
Rachel Morris, another Columbia sophomore, plays Lucy, while Julia Ciccarelli, a seventh-grader in the Guilderland district, is Snoopy, and Ian Justino, an eighth-grader at Shaker, is Linus.