The cast and crew behind X-Fest 2013 know the risks that come with bringing a couple of iconic stories to life on stage.
With a week to go before the premiere of You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown and The Fantastic Mr. Fox, directors Robin Nichol and Melissa Thomas want audiences to know their versions are true to the source material.
“As soon as you take figures that are iconic to those people who are familiar with the original material and put a specific voice to them and a specific face to them you risk not living up to someone’s expectations,” said Nichol.
Which is why she and Thomas worked hard to bring the characters and stories to life in a way that will please parents raised on the works of Charles M. Schulz and Roald Dahl and children who might be experiencing the stories for the first time.
Being a book lover, Thomas looked at Dahl’s story of a fox that steals food each night from three mean and wealthy farmers and adapted the elements she loved into the play.
She made sure the villains are “big and mean,” saying that’s how Dahl wrote his bad guys.
“We definitely tried to get the look right with the villains,” said Thomas. “We’re not going to soften them up for the audience. We’re going to keep them pretty villainous, as they were written.”
Mr. Fox hasn’t been softened either. In the book, he snaps chicken necks, and he does in the play too, she said.
As for You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown, it helps that Nichol is a fan of the Peanuts comic strip. The script for the musical, which premiered in the 1960s and enjoyed a revival in 1999, contains dialogue that’s lifted directly from Schultz’s ongoing daily cartoon, she said.
“What I’m trying to do is keep it simple because, when you’re telling a story with four frames, there’s not a lot of excess junk going on,” said Nichol.
Charlie Brown’s appeal is also alive and well. Nichol said the character is a perennial loser who doesn’t give up.
“That’s why people relate to him, and even celebrate him,” she said. “The baseball, the football, the kite. He just keeps trying.”
Heidi Anscott plays Lucy Van Pelt in You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown. She and her fellow cast members “ride the line” of staying true to the material and putting their own spin on the characters.
“If you play something that’s radically different from what people know and love they aren’t going to buy in,” she said.
Project X artistic director Derek Rein said last year’s success of James and the Giant Peach showed how a classic children’s story can click with the Kamloops theatre crowd.
He hopes that translates into a successful run for this year’s line up.
“I think there’s a great sense of nostalgia parents will appreciate. Being able to share that with their kids, I think, will be really cool,” said Rein.
X Fest 2013 begins Wednesday, July 24, and runs until Saturday, Aug. 10, at Prince Charles Park. Shows begin 7:30 p.m. nightly with no show on Sunday.
Tickets are available at Kamloops Live! Box Office.