Saturday, July 13, 2013

You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown

One of the best things about watching the Woodland Opera House’s new production of ‘You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown,” directed by Angela Baltezore, was watching the reaction of all the little children around me.  And I mean little!  One girl could not have been more than three.  Many others looked as if they were in the lower grades in grammar school.  Yet they all sat mesmerized, behaved themselves beautifully, laughed at lots of things, and thoroughly enjoyed the production, as did I.

“Charlie Brown” is, of course, based on the beloved comic strip, Peanuts, still running in newspapers across the country despite the demise of its creator Charles Schultz in 2000.  It is likely that its popularity will outlive me and probably you as well.

The script consists of lots of brief vignettes, which the faithful will recognize as living examples of familiar comic strips interspersed with wonderful musical numbers. 

The show premiered off Broadway in 1967, written and directed by Clark Gesner.  It was revived on Broadway in 1998, with new dialog by Michael Mayer and additional songs and orchestration by Andrew Lippa (there are fun homages to “The Wizard of Oz” and Vince Guaraldi).

The show contains all the things one would want in a show about the Peanuts characters.  Charlie Brown is inept, insecure, and hopelessly in love with the little Red Haired Girl.  Lucy is bossy and domineering, Linus offers sage advice and philosophy, Schroeder is long-suffering, enduring the Lucy’s goo-goo eyes, Charlie Brown’s little sister Sally is cute and endearing, and Snoopy steals the show.

And what a strong cast.

Dalton McNeely may seem a bit too tall and strong for insecure Charlie Brown, but he has a round head  for the round-headed kid.  His lunch time soliloquy was great and his excitement over finally flying a kite (briefly) was well done.  Everyone will fall in love with his Charlie Brown.

Linus is always the heart of Peanuts and Alec Gracia brings out the best in the blanket-hugging child.  He was a particular favorite of the very young child sitting near to me, hugging her own blanket and laughing whenever Linus went through a blanket emergency.  Needless to say “My blanket and me” was very funny, especially his solution to the separation anxiety he feels.

Jessica Hoffart was the perfect Lucy.  Loud and overbearing, constantly harping and taunting Charlie Brown, yet vulnerable in her infatuation with Schroeder.  It is Lucy, surprisingly, who utters the one positive line in the play which sums up Charlie Brown beautifully.

Matt Taloff shines as the long-suffering, Beethoven-loving Schroeder, singing one of the new songs by Andrew Lippa, “Beethoven’s Day.” 

(Lippa also wrote “My New Philosophy” for Sally and Schroeder and restructured the opening number. Lippa’s tunes are quite distinct in sound from the original numbers by Gesner and those familiar with the show will find them jarring at first.)

Abby Miles is Charlie Brown’s little sister, Sally.  I found her such an endearing character, and much stronger than one finds in the comic strip itself.

Last but not least is the performance of Emily Jo Seminoff as Snoopy.  For one thing, the size difference between herself and McNeely works well for the illusion of her as Charlie Brown’s dog.  When he pats her on the head, it seems quite natural.  But her boneless body, her wonderfully natural mouth contortions, her howling at the moon, and especially the delightful “Suppertime” make this an outstanding characterization.

There is no one performer who is head and shoulders above the rest in this terrific ensemble cast.  Each contribute to making this a successful production.

Do not hesitate to take your children, no matter how young they are.  This is a show that will be enjoyed by children of all ages, and adults alike.

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