Lucy and Linus and Schroeder and Sally and Snoopy and the Good Man himself are alive and well and singing and dancing and reawakening memory after memory after memory as Sustaining Sound Theatre Company and Chromolume Theatre present their family-pleasing intimate revival of You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown.
Newspaper comics staple Charlie Brown had already been around for seventeen years and starred in a pair of animated TV specials when You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown made its off-Broadway debut way back in 1967. West End and Broadway runs followed, along with countless regional, community, and school productions before Charlie & Friends returned to the Broadway stage in the 1999 Best Revival Tony winner, a big-stage revisal featuring a much-tweaked book (by Clark Gesner with additional dialog by Mayer and based on Charles M. Schulz’s comic strip) and a few new songs (courtesy of its Broadway director Michael Mayer and Broadway songwriter Andrew Lippa).
Gesner and Mayer’s book gives us a series of sketches that do precisely what they’re supposed to do, i.e. replicate the 4-panel daily Peanuts strips and their 10-panel Sunday counterparts in short vignettes, each with its own punch line. Take for instance when Lucy attempts to strike up a conversation with her main crush Schroeder, who only has fingers for his piano, leaving Lucy to gripe, “My Aunt Marion was right. Never try to discuss marriage with a musician.”
All the favorite Peanuts themes are there, with the conspicuous exception of the unfailingly hilarious football gag. There’s Charlie’s infatuation with the Little Red-Haired Girl, Linus’s inability to function without his blanket, Lucy’s side-job as a 5-¢-per-consultation shrink, and Snoopy’s fantasy life as The Red Baron, to name just a few.
Many of these situations find their expression in song (music and lyrics by Genser). There’s Linus’s “My Blanket And Me,” which has him attempting in vain to “walk away and leave it.” “The Doctor Is In” has Lucy forcing Charlie Brown to list his many failings, to which she responds with, “You don’t think that mentioning these few superficial failings is going to do you any good, do you?” Know-it-all Lucy later teaches Charlie some “Little Known Facts,” like: “You see that bird? It’s called an eagle. But since it’s little it has another name, a sparrow, and on Christmas and Thanksgiving we eat them.” And let’s not forget Charlie Brown’s signature song, the now classic “Happiness.”
Lippa’s contributions are some of the show’s best. The R&B “Beethoven Day” has Schroeder attempting to convince his pals to fete his all-time favorite composer with a holiday. Even better is Sally’s “My New Philosophy,” of which she has several, including, “Oh, yeah. That’s what you think?” and “Why are you telling me?”
Having seen a pair of Charlie Browns last year, one a 99-seat-plan production, the other a great big regional one in an 1800-seat theater, I’m happy to report that the Peanuts gang is right where they should be, in the 50-or-so-seat Attic Theatre, and if a show at the Attic can still be a sweltering experience, the real heat is being generated onstage only feet from the audience in the kind of intimate setting where You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown works best.
Holland Noël’s choir-boy looks and boy-next-door charm make him a fine choice to play Charlie, and he is supported by an all-around splendid gang of triple-threats.
Richie Ferris gives Linus just the right gawky awkwardness, in addition to figuring out way after way for the blanket-obsessed tot to make use of his beloved blanky. John Devereaux makes for a terrific Schroeder, whether ignoring a lovestruck Lucy in favor of Ludwig Von B. or leading the infectious “Beethoven Day.”
As for the show’s canine contingent, shaggy-haired Matt Steele has a field day as showman (showpup?) extraordinaire Snoopy, and never more so than in the pooch’s very own show-stopping salute to “Suppertime.”
Best of all is the female contingent of Dorothy Dillingham Blue as Lucy and Kristin Towers-Rowles as Sally, the former such a dead ringer for the Charles M. Schulz original and the latter such a quirky ball-of-fire that you may find yourself wishing someone would write a Lucy-Sally spinoff for the brunette-and-blonde scene stealers. In particular, Towers-Rowles’ “My New Philosophy” makes it abundantly clear why another Kristin won a Tony for playing Sally. It’s a star vehicle par excellence, and Towers-Rowles shows you why.
Cate Caplin directs with her accustomed panache, and though this reviewer would be hard-pressed to tell where Caplin’s musical staging ends and Samantha Whidby’s choreography begins (or vice versa), musical numbers are imaginatively conceived and energetically performed, with musical director Jeff Bonhiver doing a bang-up job as well (in addition to playing keyboards alongside Tyler Smith on drums)
Erik Austin’s scenic design captures the comic-book style and saturated colors of Peanuts’ Sunday-paper look as do Shon LeBlanc and Melissa Pritchett’s Peanuts-perfect oversized costumes, with Will Cleckler’s vivid lighting making them all look even pizzazzier. Kenny LeForte’s sound design has all the just-right effects (including the trademark teachers’ wah-wah “voices.”)
You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown is produced by Robert Towers and Ryan Rowles. Whidby is stage manager.
Understudies Trevor Coran, Rachel Geis, Carly Linehan, Andreas Pantazis, and Michael Uribes cover Charlie, Lucy, Sally, Snoopy, and Shroeder/Linus.
You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown is that rare production, one that audiences of truly any age can enjoy, from tiny tots only just now discovering the Peanuts gang to their grandparents, who grew up reading the same Peanuts comic strips and seeing the same Peanuts TV specials as their grandchildren do today.
Charlie Brown fans, get ready for a visit to Peanuts heaven.
October 4, 2014
Photos: Liz Reinhardt