A charming storyline, strong vocals and an evocative set are hallmarks of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, the four-time Tony Award nominated Broadway musical comedy, based upon characters created by cartoonist Charles M. Schultz in his comic strip Peanuts. With music and lyrics by Clark Gesner, the show premiered off Broadway in March 1967 and opened in London’s West End in February 1968. It had a Broadway revival in 1999 and another off-Broadway return earlier this year.
I grew up with Peanuts as my favourite cartoon, so I knew all the characters and their traits and I am delighted to say that they certainly stay true to form in this production. Young and old alike will find plenty to enjoy and savour because it is feel-good entertainment with wonderful tunes and good humour. Among the crowd I saw it with – parents, grandparents and children – was a moppet, probably no older than three, who was clapping and dancing and shrieking with glee.
Charlie Brown is a boy low on confidence, someone who continually questions himself and his abilities. Alone one day during lunch – as is usually the case – he notices a little red-haired girl (who we don’t ever see) and wants to talk with her, sit with her, but can’t find the courage to do so. It is a theme that resonates through the production as he fantasises about the “ranger”. Later, he tries – mostly in vain – to fly a kite and can’t start a class assignment, a book report on Peter Rabbit, as worry gets the better of him. He even dips out when there is a baseball game to be won. His younger sister Sally is a different kettle of fish. Trying to find her way in life, she rejects a bad mark from a teacher by deciding to adopt a series of homespun philosophies.
Lucy is overpowering and often a pain – in short, she is mostly “crabby”. She expresses deep infatuation with classical pianist extraordinaire Shroeder, but he remains aloof. Lucy’s younger brother Linus is lost without his security blanket and thumb sucking, and is often mocked for this, not the least by his sister. Snoopy, the Browns’ dog, is not a hound to be messed with, an “adrenaline junkie” totally comfortable breaking into song, even when doing so for his supper. He’s his own man … well, pooch, not even afraid when in the guise of a flying ace tackling the feared World War I pilot the Red Baron. When all is said and done, despite the setbacks Charlie Brown discovers that, in spite of his shortcomings, his friends truly believe he is “a good man”.
With a pastel coloured set (designed by Jacob Battista), complete with puffy white clouds, the action is often signposted with the clever use of two large “window” props featuring pull down blinds. Snoopy’s kennel is created via the backside of the tiered bleacher seating that is part of the set. The uptempo numbers are a delight and immediate mood setters (musical direction is from Ben Kiley). The various chapters or vignettes – featuring one or more characters – are cleverly weighted, so the show moves along and there are no dull moments.
Cameron MacDonald (Georgy Girl) is an excellent choice to lead the six member on-stage troupe, all of whom have their times to shine. Courtney Glass (Jekyll and Hyde) is Lucy, Joshua Robson (Les Miserables) Schroeder, Adam Porter (Scooby Doo Live) Linus, Sarah Morrison (MTC’s Ladies in Black) Sally and Luigi Lucente (Rocky Horror Show) Snoopy. They sing well and gel nicely as a group (Dana Jolly has done a fine job as choreographer), with the ensemble tunes among my favourites.
You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown, directed by Gary Abrahams (Bad Jews), is easy on the eye and on the ear for a most enjoyable couple of hours, including 20-minute interval. It is playing at the Alex Theatre until July 2nd.
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television