Happiness is fun and friendship. Those are the themes of this retro musical comedy. We all know the story of Charlie Brown, and with the world today, taking a trip down memory lane is a welcomed treat.
The Williamsburg Players kicks off its 2017-18 season with a nostalgic production of You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown. It’s a 1967 musical comedy with music and lyrics by Clark Gesner, based on the characters created by famous cartoonist Charles M. Schulz in his comic strip Peanuts. On March 7, 1967, the musical premiered off-Broadway at Theatre 80 in the East Village. The musical received numerous awards including two Drama Desk Awards leading to a Broadway revival run in 1999.
You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown takes audiences on a journey with the beloved Peanuts’ characters, notable for being ageless 5-6 year olds, but with the wit, humor and dialogue of adults. Charlie Brown and his company of friends have been deeply rooted in American culture with annual holiday television specials, which have become a part of holiday tradition, appearing in advertising, and even a modernized retelling of the gang in the 2015 film, “The Peanuts Movie.”
The original Peanuts comic strip may have ended in the year 2000 with the retirement and illness of creator Charles M. Schulz, but it is certain that good ol’ Charlie Brown will continue to entertain and delight audiences for many years to come. No matter what the medium, Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy and the gang are here to stay, and will continue to entertain and delight audiences of all ages.
“You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown” is told in a style of vignettes that are strung together, with themes and ideas that were introduced in the illustrated comic strip. I enjoyed seeing the scene-by-scene vignettes unfold on stage, with the appropriate amount of humor, music, and timing. Having only seen this musical one time prior to this performance, I had high expectations for the production. To me, the characters and storylines are so deeply rooted in the American psyche, that as an audience member, I wish for the characters in this production to be portrayed with great care and attention. That being said, there were some successes and some missteps.
When we meet Charlie Brown, played by Joshua Daniels, he shuffles onto the stage with all the awkwardness that is Charlie Brown. He sits down for his lunch, which he eats by himself, hoping the Little Red Haired Girl sees him. Mr. Daniels had a nice moment on stage alone, where he meticulously engaged the audience with his ‘Lunch’ monologue. One of my favorite characters from the comic, if I must be honest, Lucy Van Pelt, played by Kimberlyn Middleton has a powerful voice and commanding, yet crabby presence which you expect Lucy to have. We meet her next in a vignette where she lounges on you know who’s piano. She fawns ever so dramatically over her crush, Schroeder, the Beethoven devotee played ever so calm by Jeremy Bustin. He has one of my favorite lines in the show, “I can’t stand it!” which he delivered just like we all remembered.
Then we see Charlie Brown’s beloved dog, Snoopy, played by Justin Jones. H actually sings one of my favorite songs from the show, “Suppertime.” However, it just didn’t quite bring down the house like I thought it would. The director chose to cast Linus as a girl, played by Abigail Carter. I just didn’t believe she was boy. However, if you can look past that she really settles into Linus in Act Two. I have to mention the special effects during Linus’ number “My Blanket & Me.” They utilized invisible string to actually make the blanket dance along with her, which was a nice effect. I would be remiss to not mention Charlie Brown’s little sister, Sally, played with magnificent wonder and spunk by Holly Rice. Speaking with her after the show she said, “I studied this character.” You can most certainly tell. Her choices and mannerisms were spot on. One of the stand out moments was her rendition of “My New Philosophy” made famous by Kristin Chenoweth. She had big shoes and fill them she did.
Director Valerie Chinn brought together an ensemble cast who were synced and worked well together as an ensemble. The group moments musically directed by Laurel Christensen more than made up for some of the missteps individually.
I especially enjoyed seeing some lovely stage pictures and tableaus, which were very reminiscent of seeing panel by panel drawings of the original comic strip. The set designed by Steve Olson stayed true to the comic by emphasizing each piece with a thick black outline. The attention to detail was great. From the three-dimensional red Snoopy doghouse, to the larger than life mailbox, these were very much inspired by Schulz’s original illustrations. I was quite impressed with seeing Charlie Brown succeed at flying a kite, but would have been more impressed if I couldn’t see the contraption they used to make the effect happen. Costumes designed by M.J. Devaney and Kimberlyn Middleton were very appropriate to the story, and were also very reminiscent to the comic strip. The team did a good job creating a visually pleasing, and accurate, depiction of the Peanuts’ characters. From Charlie Brown’s yellow and black zigzag polo, to Lucy Van Pelt’s starchy blue dress with a large bow, all the costumes were spot on to what I would expect to see if each character had been personified. The sound designed by Roger Helmick amplified the actors and added dimension to the show appropriately. However, at times when the cast would do the famous Peanuts scream, “ahhhhhh!” it was a little ear piercing. Lighting designed by Scott Hayes was bright and vibrant. It added to the youthful exuberance radiating from the cast.
“You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown” is definitely worth seeing. Not only will it leave you nostalgic for more of ‘good ol’ Charlie Brown,’ but, you will also have an experience that will be appropriate for all ages. I guarantee, “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown” will bring back fond memories of your childhood, and an escape that you will most certainly welcome in this day and time. “Happiness is….” seeing “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown” at Williamsburg Players.