You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown, playing at the Montgomery College Performing Arts Center, is an outstanding production of a comic strip brought to life and then infused with laughter. Director James Gardiner lends gentle guidance to a piece that must traverse between awkward child relationships and easy movement. Musical direction was equally balanced by Dr. Jay Crowder, who had a cast of strong and capable collegiate voices.
The musical, which premiered in 1967, gives us the living and breathing characters from Charles Schulz’s beloved Peanuts comic strip. There’s the angst-ridden Charlie Brown, the unpredictable and in-your-face Lucy, the enigmatic Schroeder, the bouncy and bubbly little sister Sally, the thoughtful and gentle Linus, and a much more energetic Snoopy than I could have ever imagined.
Heck, how old are they? Sally deals with her delightful little girl silliness, Schroeder is composing symphonies, Charlie Brown ponders existential life issues, and Linus sucks his thumb! That’s part of the unexpected wonder of it, you can’t get a fix on them, just like the unexpected words that come out of your child’s mouth.
Of course, none of the cast is eight years old. And aside from Charlie, none look like the actual “Peanuts” cartoon characters. But this doesn’t make a difference once they start engaging onstage, because what they are saying to each other is done with the openness of early childhood, and in their interactions you feel as if they are all really quite fond of each other.
The action recalls some of the central situations of the comic strip. There’s the travails of Charlie Brown, our everyman, or shall I say “everykid,” as he ponders his lunch or wonders about that little red headed girl. The whole Peanuts gang in the outfield, questioning Charlie’s leadership and ability to win a game. Lucy and her psychiatrist office. The eternal battle between kite and the kite-eating tree. Snoopy’s fantasy as a WWI fighter pilot. Spoiler alert** I was disappointed that the classic Charlie Brown vs. Lucy holding the football was not included, but will take that up with the writer.
The action comes at you in situations, sayings and even sonnets. There are no beginnings or endings, just like a child’s mind. After the opening Charlie Brown pours out his anxieties, the cast confirms in song (“You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown”). Conor Scanlon is pouty and elicits the correct sadness as Charlie Brown, even as you hope for a different outcome. He ably holds the fractious group together in many dizzying sequences. Schroeder, played by Michael Mainwaring, is the special kid trying to fit in. His soaring voice was kept under wraps until needed. Mili Diaz gives Sally a Betty Boop spriteliness that is enjoyable. The role of Linus, a challenge played by Kevin Mori, is handled with care and good stage pacing. Lucy, played by a minor hurricane named Awa Sal Secka, is that unstoppable force directly from the comic strip and exhibits fine stage presence and vocal command.
And then there is Snoopy. Given a chance to exhibit his inner canine id, Jonathan Miot has more fun than I considered possible in exploring the possibilities of what America’s favorite doggie would do and think. From a rabbit hunt soft shoe to doggie dreams on the doghouse, he simply plays a person-dog, full of thoughts and emotions, just like we imagine our own canine might have.
The costumes by Peter Zakutansky were fun and spot on, and helped the visual transformation from adult to child. Think ‘Godspell” but with bright, oversized kids clothes. The movement onstage by Bobby Smith was a good blend of classical and spontaneous, though it could have been a little sharper at times.
It is a credit to the cast to be able to really approach the roles as a child, in performance mode–not an easy task for college age performers going back in time. The last song, “Happiness,” reflects Charlie Brown’s outlook, that all you can do is do your best. And messages are rarely this delightfully delivered.
Running Time: 1 hour 50 minutes plus 15 minute intermission.
Advisory: Leave your ‘adult’ at the door.
You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown plays through October 14, 2012, at the Robert. E Parilla Performing Arts Center at Montgomery College – 51 Mannakee Street, in Rockville, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 240-567-5301, or purchase them online.