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at the Falcon Theatre

As a Troubadour Theater Company junkie, I'm thinking maybe the first of the 12 Steps involves admitting that not all Christmas shows are created equal. Not that I have any intention of recovering from my addiction, mind you. But it somehow seems appropriate to take a fearless sorta inventory of what does and doesn't jell in the Troubie's latest holiday offering. On one hand, this amazing crew reaches its usual energetic heights, and the musical numbers uniformly go through the roof. On the other, the theatrical marriage of Charlie and James Brown is not quite harmonious.

Matt Walker directs the cast, which has a blast with the familiar characters from the 1965 television special A Charlie Brown Christmas, with a few more Peanuts thrown in. Despite the excellently irreverent pop-culture detours, the path of this Troubie-fest stays close to its roots, following Charlie and crew as they stage a holiday play and find the true meaning of Christmas. As the hardest-thinking man in comic strips, Charlie Brown is done proud by Mike Sulprizio; and cohorts Simon Yin, Matthew Morgan, and Andy Lopez likewise deliver in a big-headed way (costumer Sharon McGunigle). Lisa Valenzuela is a powerfully pushy Lucy, and Audrey Siegel an appropriately sticky sweet Sally; Lynette Rathnam is adorable as Woodstock and the myopic Marcie, and Beth Kennedy's Peppermint Patty nearly steals the show as she rehearses for her role as the oft-neglected Innkeeper in the Christmas pageant rehearsal. Walker takes on mostly emcee duties, as his Snoopy repeatedly transforms into a Rod Serlingesque predictor of things to come—yes, kids, it's true about Patty and Marcie—and, in a Troubie twist, reveals the true nature of his doghouse escapades with Woodstock.

But while A Charlie James Brown Christmas kicks ass musically—thanks in large part to Erik Heinly and his live band—what the godfather of soul brings to the table here seems out of place. With the exception of powerhouse Valenzuela's Lucy bemoaning that "It's a Man's Man's Man's World," most of the James Brown songs take us away from rather than add to the proceedings. Bottom line is: We're missing Vince Guaraldi's incredible score, which was so integral to the original tale. However, the evening is still enjoyable. And when all is said and done, I'll leave myself in the higher power of Walker and his positively inspirational company—waiting, breathlessly, for next Christmas.

Presented by the Troubadour Theater Company at the Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Dr., Burbank. Wed.-Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 4 & 8 p.m., Sun. 4 & 7 p.m. Dec. 21-Jan. 20. (818) 955-8101.

Reviewed by Jennie Webb

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