It’s always fun to see old friends! It’s especially fun to discover that they can sing and dance. And Raleigh Little Theatre’s production of Clark Gesner’s 1967 Off-Broadway, 1968 West End, and 1971 Broadway musical You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown affords a fast, fun, and upbeat opportunity to have such a reunion as well as to make such a discovery. Director Matthew Hurley has assembled an energetic cast, choreographer Shannon Carr has supplied them with all-the-right-moves, and they have been well-coached by musical director Michael Santangelo.
Everyone alive today is familiar with “the Peanuts gang” — the kids who appeared in the syndicated comic strip Peanuts (written and illustrated by Charles M. Schulz), which ran from Oct. 2, 1950 through Feb. 13, 2000 (and continues in reruns). Each member of this gang had his/her own recurring storylines and his/her own unique relationship with the central character — the meek, neurotic Charlie Brown, who — though thoroughly inept at everything — always tried his best at every endeavor.
The musical comedy You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown brings the Peanuts characters to life onstage with song-and-dance adaptations of many of the characters’ trademark situations. It is a tribute to Matthew Hurley’s direction, to the acting abilities of the cast, and especially to the costumes provided by designer Jenny Mitchell that nine “adult-sized” actors are so thoroughly convincing as “little kids.”
Nicky Taylor is endearing as the title character. We readily sympathize with him as he pines after “the little red-haired girl,” tries to fly a kite, visits his “psychiatrist,” leads his baseball team to defeat, and experiences disappointment and humiliation on Valentines’ Day.
Bryan Bunch very adeptly portrays Schroeder, the musical prodigy who brings Beethoven’s music to life from his miniature piano while he avoids Lucy’s romantic advances. (Interesting Note: Two years ago, Bunch was every bit as convincing as a teenage version of this character when he played “Beethoven” in North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre’s production of Bert V. Royal’s Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead.)
Never turning off her 100-watt smile, Britney Duong very charismatically makes the bossy, know-it-all, fuss-budget Lucy properly annoying to Charlie Brown (and many of the others). Her “The Doctor Is In (Dr. Lucy)” number is captivating.
Tim Poliquin’s Snoopy is a crowd-pleaser, whether he’s simply worried about his dinner, flying his World War I Sopwith Camel as he engages The Red Baron in a dog-fight, or just lying atop his doghouse.
Gabriel Yarborough gives a very sympathetic Linus, Lucy’s younger brother who is so attached to his security blanket that he dreams of a world in which everyone cherishes their blankets. Yarborough is especially fun when Linus tries so hard to walk away from it.
As Charlie Brown’s younger sister, Sally Brown, Caroline Moore conjures up pivotal points in her character’s storyline. She is especially cute in her reaction to her teacher’s evaluation of her coat-hanger sculpture and in the song “My Philosophy.”
Listed in the program as “Ensemble,” three actors supply other important characters in the Peanuts saga. In addition to “filling in the blanks,” Grace Dreadmore plays Marcie, Rebecca Shell appears as Peppermint Patty, and Davis Leonard portrays Pigpen. The script kind of “shortchanges” these characters, but the acting and the costuming combine to make quite clear who is who.
Random Observations of Noteworthy Aspects:
Scenic designer Elizabeth Newton has supplied a very versatile acting area into which the actors move such things as brick walls and a doghouse. Lighting designer Darby Madewell and sound designer Rae Quarles both contribute well.
The music is catchy and quite appropriate to the world of Peanuts.
Delightful properties such as giant pencils, a kite, baseball bats, baseball bases, and cut-outs of little yellow birds abound!
As an homage to Charles Shultz’s 1962 book Happiness Is a Warm Puppy, the show’s final number is a song called “Happiness.” Those of us who read (and remember) this book experienced an extra, “special” glow of warmth as the company performed it.
From the Department of Pick-Picky: We really did not mind, but we feel compelled to mention that this Charlie Brown is not bald (although Nicky Taylor had expressed a willingness to shave his head), and the stripes on his shirt are much-too-narrow. Although we did see cutouts of little yellow birds, the character “Woodstock” was never identified.
Make time to see this show! It is “family friendly,” and opening night’s audience included quite a few kids, many of whom may have been getting their introduction to live theater. Indeed, RLT has provided an opportunity for parents to cultivate theater-lovers and to acquaint their families with an enduring bit of popular American culture.
EDITOR’S NOTE: To obtain more information about and buy tickets for RLT‘s presentation of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, which runs runs through Sunday, Nov. 3rd, click here. Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 5 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 3rd, performance; and there will be a special Sensory-Friendly Performance, starting at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 9th.
Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.