Theatre Mirror Reviews - "You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown (1999 revival)"

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note: entire contents copyright 2009 by Carl A. Rossi


"YOU’RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN (1999 revival)"

based on the comic strip “Peanuts” by Charles M. Schulz
book, music and lyrics by Clark Gesner
additional dialogue by Michael Mayer
additional music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa

directed and choreographed by Kaitlyn Chantry
musical direction by Karin Denison

Charlie Brown … Matthew Finn
Lucy Van Pelt … Rachel Savage
Linus Van Pelt … Ian Flynn
Snoopy … Jason Luciana
Sally Brown … April Pressel
Schroeder … Michael Chateauneuf
Peppermint Patty … Hilary Chadwick
Marcie … Virginia DeMoss
Pig Pen … Christian Hegg
Frieda … Ilana Friedman
Violet … Siobhaun Maus
Shermy … Aaron Moronez

Orchestra:

Conductor; Piano … Karin Denison
Violin; Viola … Alistair Leon Kok; Susan Yeh
Bass … Ben Reynolds
Reeds … Jeri Sykes
Percussion … Patrick Litterst

Is it still possible to perform the original off-Broadway version of YOU’RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN (1967) instead of the 1999 Broadway revival? (The same question could be asked regarding FLOWER DRUM SONG's Before and After.) In adapting Charles Schulz’s beloved comic strip “Peanuts” for the stage, Clark Gesner wisely called the results “a musical entertainment” --- there was no plot, per se, but a two-act flow of punchline-blackouts drawing upon the many thoughts and few actions of Mr. Schulz’s brain-children, saddled with disposable songs, but at least Mr. Gesner kept his “entertainment” small (six characters) and intimate; the 1999 revival doubles the cast, divvies up the interchangeable lines among the secondary characters, and grafts some Big Moments onto the score (post-Sondheim, natch) --- a shameless attempt to turn a Revue into a Musical (may such a fate never happen to THE FANTASTICKS). But YOU’RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN’s tone was too pop-art from the beginning when philosophical reflection was always the strip’s core: “A Charlie Brown Christmas” has already become an annual TV classic, Hallmark Cards had begun manufacturing “Peanuts” merchandise, complete “Peanuts” anthologies were being published, “The Gospel According to Peanuts” was a bestseller; YOU’RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN ran for years, off-Broadway, putting the final seal on Mr. Schulz’s comic strip as Peanuts, Inc. Smaller is better, in this case --- by a hair.

How does one go about casting this show, when the originals have big heads with squat torsos that resemble cash registers in profile? (The off-Broadway production used undersized actors to simulate children and dog.) The Longwood Players’ production offers a Brechtian dozen of all heights, shapes and sizes (Brecht, again!), signposting like crazy, and most of them lumber rather than ZIP!; they are further hindered by the orchestra dominating the right half of the stage. Director/choreographer Kaitlyn Chantry has punched it all up in the familiar Broadway manner --- hard and heartless --- when she might have captured some of the strip’s charm had she worked against the grain for Charlie Brown’s spoken soliloquies (it would also help if Matthew Finn, the relentlessly extroverted hero, could belt, on-key). When she’s not playing Sally as a knock-kneed spaz, April Pressel displays a sweet operetta voice, and Siobhaun Maus' clear bell-tones are wasted as Violet; as Snoopy, Jason Luciana shows promise as a smooth, smooooooooth singer/hoofer.

The Must-See is Rachel Savage as Lucy. Ms. Savage has the correct short, stocky body-type and she has clearly studied “Peanuts” for her facial and body expressions; thus, she is hilariously stylized to the nth degree (and first dimension). Ms. Savage shies away from playing Lucy as an out-and-out child-bitch, yet whenever she hunches her shoulders, draws in her neck, lowers her chin and looks up in comic malevolence, the Schulz fussbudget stands before you (thanks to Ms. Savage, the “Beethoven” number, miraculously untouched for the revival, is the evening’s highlight --- an all-too-early one). On the night I attended, the nearly-full house loved everybody, everything. I loved Lucy.

"You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown (1999 revival)" (13 - 21 November)
THE LONGWOOD PLAYERS
Cambridge YMCA Theatre, 820 Massachusetts Avenue, CAMBRIDGE, MA
1 (800) 595-4TIX

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