An iconic family television tradition is coming to life on the Gunter Theatre stage this holiday season with help from a brother and sister pair.
The S.C. Children’s Theatre’s first ever production of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” runs Dec. 2-4 and 9-11 with Charlie Brown and his sister, Sally, being played by real-life siblings Julia and Jack Higginbotham.
Julia, 10, and Jack, 11, who get asked “all the time” (said in perfect sibling unison) if they are twins, are regular performers in productions around the Upstate. They have both made it to the final cut for some Broadway productions, as well. But “A Charlie Brown Christmas” gave them a singular opportunity: They’ve been cast in the same show before, but they’ve never interacted on stage together.
“We are super excited,” says their mother, Suzanne, whose husband, Brandon, has also performed with his children. “It never crossed my mind when we got the cast list that they’d get brother and sister.”
Suzanne says the two are very similar to their stage characters. Jack is much more serious and protective of his downtime, much like Charlie, and Julia is peppy and outgoing like Sally.
The SCCT production will feature two entirely separate casts who will perform alternating shows. The “Green” cast is comprised of seventh- to 12th-graders, and the “Red” cast members range from fifth to seventh grade.
Director Mia Phillips says she employs the multicast method to allow more students to be involved and also to help alleviate some of the fatigue from performing back-to-back shows.
Julia and Jack are part of the Red cast. Phillips says their casting was purely coincidental.
“I did not even think about Charlie Brown and Sally being brother and sister when I was casting them, but these are the parts they got,” Phillips says.
Julia says it’s really fun for the two of them to act with each other, because even though they do have their typical sibling moments of disagreement, and are fiercely competitive when it comes to their grades, they are great friends.
Jack says his favorite scenes in the whole show are the ones he and Julia do together.
“It’s something you don’t get to do all the time,” Jack says. “It’s basically what we do all day but in front of a million people.”
Julia and Jack have grown accustomed to theater life, juggling voice lessons, acting classes at SCCT and play rehearsal. Julia says she’s often tired because of the late evenings on school nights, but the experience is so fun and rewarding that it’s worth it. And she’s figured out how to combat the fatigue.
“Sometimes I have some coffee in the morning, so that might change my perspective on the day,” Julia says, speaking much more like a professional actress accustomed to dealing with the press than a typical fourth-grader.
The original “A Charlie Brown Christmas” special made its debut on CBS on Dec. 9, 1965, but the stage version wasn’t licensed and released until 2013. It follows the television special, including all of Vince Guaraldi’s memorable music and the opening ice-skating scene, for which the children’s theatre cast members will wear Heely tennis shoes to “skate” around the stage.
All of the songs are performed on stage by the cast and a three-piece band – keyboard, upright bass and drums.
“It’s such a classic,” says Phillips. “We’re so excited.”
“A Charlie Brown Christmas”
When: Dec. 2-11
Where: Gunter Theatre, Peace Center
Info: Tickets start at $18, 864-467-3000; peacecenter.org