Barker bringing Charlie Brown to Fort Frances

Ken Kellar

Good grief!

Charlie Brown and the rest of the Peanuts gang are coming to Fort Frances, just in time for Christmas.

Local actor, musician and songwriter Trevor Barker will be directing a stage version of “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” based on the 1965 CBS holiday special.

Barker explained that he’d been looking for an opportunity to direct a musical since returning to Fort Frances, and thought “A Charlie Brown Christmas” was a good first project.

“I music directed ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ in Toronto with a little theatre troupe,” Barker said.
“It was really fun. This is actually the first time I’ve ever directed something and I felt like it was good to direct something that I’m kind of already familiar with.”

While this may be Barker’s first foray into directing, his resume when it comes to musical theatre boasts plenty of credentials. While out in Vancouver, Barker studied song writing under Lesie Arden, who he said was “probably Canada’s best musical theatre composer.

From B.C., Barker moved to southern Ontario and spent some time in the art scene there.

“I was working for actually a children’s theatre in Toronto for a while, [called] Solar Stage,” Barker said.

“I ended up writing a children’s musical originally by myself for Toronto Fringe. Solar Stage saw that musical and they liked the music from it. It was a children’s theatre show, so they hired me to write music for a show that already existed.”

Barker also served as both the music director and accompanist for that show.

“That was a lot of fun,” he said.

“And it made me realize that I really love children in the audience responding to things. There’s something about them, their laughter is super infectious. They’re so curious. They’re not easy to entertain, but it’s a different type of entertainment.”

Barker said his decision to put on the Charlie Brown musical comes from the material’s sense of nostalgia, as well as the relatability of the oft put-upon main character.

“Everyone knows the Peanuts Gang, young and old, and I think it appeals to both too,” he explained.

“This little boy Charlie Brown, he’s looking for the meaning of Christmas, and I think every person at some point has been like, ‘Okay, so it’s not about the presents. It’s not the lights. It’s not the pretty things. What is it about?’ So I find Charlie Brown very relatable.”

Barker’s decision to direct a musical in the first place stems from his experience performing, and the impact being in musicals had on him.

“I find, for me, it was life altering,” Barker recalled.

“My first one was in high school. I think it was ‘Pirates of Penzance.’ And from there, I just couldn’t get enough… I think it’s just life altering.”

Barker explained that as a music teacher in Fort Frances, he saw a lot of talent with not a lot of opportunities to express it.

“There is like the high school musical for the high school kids,” he said.

“But nothing for younger ones, at least not right now at this time of year.”

Auditions for the show were held at the end of September, and Barker said the response was encouraging.

“I found everyone I needed eventually,” Barker said.

“Actually, you know what, there was so much talent that I ended up double casting. So all of the female parts are double cast and the male parts are just single cast.”

The rehearsals for the show have recently gotten underway as well, with the first one being held last Wednesday. The show is scheduled to be performed on Nov. 29 at La Place Rendez-Vous, though Barker said some details still need to be worked out.

“We’re going to try one show night because the show is under an hour,” he explained.

“It’s like 35 to 40 minutes. So we’re going to do one at probably 6 p.m. and then one maybe at 7 p.m. and reset between . . . open the doors so that they can get going at 7:30 type thing. So we’re going to one night, two casts.”

Going forward, Barker said he’d like to continue to make use of the talent pool in Rainy River District with more productions.

“I would love to expand, and I would love to expand to community musicals,” he said.

“Kind of like what Katherine [Williams] was doing years ago. I would love to put on, not ‘Mamma Mia!,’ but a bigger production, all-ages type thing.”

“I feel like this town does have a lot of talent that’s not being used and I feel like a lot of people want to use it,” he added.

“Little Theatre’s doing a good job, they do put on productions. I do love plays, but even moreso I love musicals.”