Theatre Mirror Reviews - "You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

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note: entire contents copyright 2009 by Larry Stark


"You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown"

Based on the comic strip "Peanuts" by Charles Schulz
Book, Music & Lyrics by Clark Gesner
Additional Dialogue by Michael Mayer
Additional Music by Andrew Lippa

Directed by Scott LeFerber
Musical Direction by Michael Kreutz
Choreography by David Conolly

Set Design by Jenna McFarland Lord
Costume Design by Molly Trainer
Lighting Design by Russ Swift
Dance Captain David Krinitt
Production Stage Manager Jessica Viator

Lucy van Pelt.......Mary Callanan
Charlie Brown...Steven Gagliastro
Schroeder...............Arlo Hill
Linus van Pelt......David Krinitt
Sally Brown......Katie Mulholland
Snoopy............David Sharrocks

MUSICIANS

Piano........Michael Kreutz
Reeds.........Kenji Kukuchi
Bass...........Matt Ambrose
Percussion.....Joe Cincotta
Trombone...Steve Gagliastro
Conductor....Michael Kreutz

I've heard that this show got its start (We're talking late '60s here) with everyone bringing in their favorite "Peanuts" comic-strips and, out of improvs, defining each different character's quirks. Then it must have been Clark Gesner who wrote extended dialogue and created songs whose lyrics expanded yet retained the flavor and timing of Charles Schulz's strips --- and on to a Broadway run. When a second company opened at Ye Wilbur Theatre "You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown" set a record for longest-running show in a Boston Broadway Barn (a year, or was it TWO!). Then Michael Mayer (book) and Andrew Lippa (music) "revised" the original into what's now on the Gloucester Stage with an crew of young professionals adding their own enthusiasm to this still enthralling show.

Actually Schulz' "Peanuts" (and Johnny Hart's "B.C.") were partly responsible for The Incredible Shrinking Comic-Strip in newspapers. From the days when "Flash Gordon" "Prince Valiant" and even "Bringing Up Father" each took up a full bedsheet-sized page of brilliant drawing in the Sunday color-comics sections of hundreds of papers each week, and "Li'l Orphan Annie" and "Terry And The Pirates" ran continued-stories all week in black-and-white daily strips, "Peanuts" and strips like it featured one self-contained "joke" every day in panels so small that the quick-sketch "art-work" was almost irrelevant. In Guisewite's "Cathy" or late "B.C." or "Wizard of Id" strips you could often cut out the drawings entirely and lose nothing --- but even at the end of his life Schulz not only wrote but DREW telling if economical insights on human life.

The show in Gloucester retains that quick-gag sequence, and the flip from kindergarten-naivety to adult insight as well. When Sally (Katie Mulholland) says she's mad at everyone, Linus (David Krinitt) eggs her on to condemn even animals, even stars and planets, but it's only when she blurts "And I am particularly mad at JUMP-ROPES!!!" that the real object of her anger is revealed. Steven Gagliastro's Charlie Brown is still the ultimate round-faced klutz/loser that everyone likes despite all his failures (in baseball and kite-flying and infatuation-from-afar with a Little Red-Headed Girl who stays an off-stage dream). Schroeder (Arlo Hill) is the ultimate Serious Artist, fending off in his song "Beethoven Day" any possible crass commercialism. It's amazing then that Mary Callanan's bulldozer-blunt Lucy van Pelt remains convinced despite his caustic rejection that they are destined to marry. And then there's black-and-white little Snoopy (David Sharrocks) who spends half the time lazing atop his dog-house resisting a teeth-tingling impulse to bite someone some day, and making a solo Production-Number of "Suppertime"!

That's one of the musical numbers that survived from the original show --- including "Happiness Is..." and the incredible "Book Report on Peter Rabbit" (which of course is a reviewer's Bible of contrasting approaches!). But there are new gems in this tiara. We all know Linus is never without his pale-blue flannel blanket (Krinitt carries it in a different way each time he appears, including rolled and tied arount his forehead as a head-band) but here he actually gets to Dance with it --- or actually with lovely Kate Mulholland dressed in a pale-blue swirl.

The television-specials based on the strips merely made Schulz's drawings (and let's face it, Seuss's in "How The Grinch Stole Christmas") move. The show in Gloucester makes them Live, without condescension, exaggeration, or patronizing. These "kids" are spontaneous, direct, honest, and warmly, disingenously fun --- just as they always were in the funny-papers. Who can ask more than that?

Love,
===Anon.

"You're A Good Man, Charley Brown" (4 - 21 June)
GLOUCESTER STAGE
267 East Main Street, GLOUCESTER, MA
1(978) 281 - 4433

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