Live action Peanuts hits the stage for charity in Gowanus

December 10, 2018 By Christina Carrega Brooklyn Daily Eagle
From left to right: Justin Tyler, Director Mollie Vogt-Welch and Gillian Smith of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” show at the ShapeShifter Lab in Gowanus. Eagle photos by Christina Carrega
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A classic holiday cartoon, transformed into a live action musical for the eleventh year opened this weekend in Gowanus, where actors will perform for a charitable cause.

Justin Tyler, 39, and Mollie Vogt-Welch, 36, brought “A Charlie Brown Christmas” to life at the ShapeShifter Lab for families to enjoy this holiday season.

“This special premiered in 1965, and the fact that kids now are still mesmerized by it — it’s very strange to us, but they are,” said Tyler, who plays Charlie Brown. “But there’s a lot of depressing themes and dark moments with other Peanuts characters, which are for the adults.”

Vogt-Welch, the director and Tyler’s wife, was inspired to bring the show to Brooklyn after seeing the production at her alma mater, Pennsylvania State University.

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The cast acts out every word and gesture from the cartoon movie to the soundtrack of a live jazz trio playing the iconic Vince Guaraldi score. The proceeds will go to The Southern Poverty Law Center.

“We used different venues throughout Brooklyn. We don’t do a ton of marketing. It’s word of mouth, under the radar and people find us — and that’s very Brooklyn,” said Tyler, who moved to Brooklyn 13 years ago with Vogt-Welch. Both are originally from Potsdam, N.Y.

A Charlie Brown Christmas. Eagle photo by Christina Carrega
A Charlie Brown Christmas. Eagle photo by Christina Carrega


The cast is not made up of trained actors. Professionals in various fields — such as a lawyer and dental hygienist — from across New York City volunteer every year to put smiles on the faces of community theater aficionados and their children.

“It’s wonderful. It’s like my yearly festive thing,” said Gillian Smith, 36, who plays Lucy. By day, Smith is the director of supernumerary at The Metropolitan Opera. “Some of these people I only see once a year. It’s very special, like a little reunion, and the fact that we are giving to a charity — it’s so much fun.”

The set was created with cardboard to give the effect that it was made by a child — an effect they could only get away with in Brooklyn, the couple said.

“This show is so Brooklyn to me. It’s kinda catchy, it’s fun, it doesn’t have to have a super high budget to make it cool. It’s just about the show and the meaning of the show,” said Vogt-Welch.

“If we did this show in Manhattan, the expectation of what the set and show looked like would be higher, and I feel like people in Brooklyn are just like, ‘This is great,’ and are happy to be here. No expectations — it’s raw.”

“This is a Brooklyn show for people who live in Brooklyn. Families come here every year and we watched their children come up,” Vogt-Welch added.

“A Charlie Brown Christmas” was created by Charles M. Shultz and premiered on television on Dec. 9, 1965. The timeless classic was entered into the Emmy Hall of Fame and won a Peabody Award.

“I loved it! It should of been longer!” said a 5-year-old boy who sat in the front row of the small audience. He ran for a photograph with Snoopy after the 45-minute show.

The show is scheduled for seven more performances at the Whitwell Place venue from Dec. 14-16. Tickets are $15, and children under 2 go for free.

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  1. “The proceeds will go to The Southern Poverty Law Center.”

    According to the SPLC’s online tax records, the company took in $132 million donor-dollars in 2017, up from $50 million in 2016. The SPLC’s cash endowment fund, 98% of which is designated as “unrestricted” in use, sits at a record-breaking $433 million dollars.

    In short, the company doesn’t really need the money at the moment. Surely there are local food banks, women’s shelters or free clinics who could make better use of the gift?

    A review of SPLC tax records going back to 2001, found on the ProPublica website, indicate that the “law center” rarely spends more than 4% of it’s annual budget on legal case costs, while routinely spending over 40% on fundraising.


    Give locally, where the need is greatest and where you can see the results of your donation first-hand.