By Jeff Ritter
Charles M. Schultz’s “Peanuts” comic strips have been an integral part of American pop culture for many years. In “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown,” the Peanuts gang comes alive in a collection of vignettes and musical numbers that will provide audiences with an evening of smiles and flashbacks to their earliest memories of the comic strip and television specials.
In a show like this that relies more on nostalgia rather than a core plot device, the cast has to be able to really grasp their characters and live in Schultz’s world. Director Ken Clark’s cast does exactly that, imbuing their performances with the generally realistic and somewhat self-deprecating humor Schultz was known for.
Joel Garrett Brown brings the right balance of optimism and pessimism to Charlie Brown, fearful of the present but hopeful for the future, until he thinks about it for too long. Brown was spot on as the endlessly depressed “round-headed kid” and showed a fine singing voice, particularly on “The Kite.”
Phil Gill grants Linus the intelligence and wisdom of someone older than the character is assumed to be, but still captures that vulnerability exemplified by his ever-present security blanket. Gill’s warm vocals defined Linus’ character perfectly on “My Blanket and Me.”
Danny Brown, who is often cast as the villain in local theatre, gives the piano prodigy Schroeder a bit more depth than we usual saw in the comic strips. While he does tickle the ivories on his tiny piano in several scenes, he’s also used in more common interactions with the other kids, including a funny scene as the conductor of a choir practice that goes awry very quickly in “Glee Club Rehearsal,” but he gets to stand out from the company a little bit more in “Beethoven Day.”
Anne Hier Brown plays Charlie Brown’s sister Sally with a mix of wide-eyed wonder at the world around her and that self-assured righteousness that anyone with kids will instantly recognize. Even if her conclusion is wrong on a given topic, such as philosophies, she’s 100 percent convinced of her methodology for arriving at that conclusion. Her argument to her teacher for getting a low grade on a wire hanger sculpture was very well reasoned, and to be honest her sculpture merited at least a B+ if not an A.
Performing “My New Philosophy” with her husband Danny was no doubt a treat for both talented Browns (sorry, Charlie—likewise talented Joel Garrett Brown is not related to the Brown couple…good grief!). Hier can usually be heard singing in a classical style, so it was fun to hear her keep up her Sally voice while singing.
Bethany Hamilton hits every facet of Lucy out of the park. Self-centered, bossy, a know-nothing know-it-all loudmouth, Lucy is as mercurial as a character can get. Hamilton shows Lucy’s wide-ranging character traits in a duet with Joel Garrett Brown (“The Doctor Is In”) where she dispenses reasonably solid psychological advice to our favorite “Blockhead,’ and then gives blatantly wrong facts to her little brother Linus, much to Charlie’s chagrin (“Little Known Facts”).
Last, but by no means least, is the dynamic duo of James Quiggins as Snoopy and Emily May as Woodstock. Quiggins delights as the world’s most famous beagle — in turns a savage beast of the wilds, a famous World War I Flying Ace, and oft times a philosophical stargazer atop his doghouse.
He absolutely brought the house down with the rest of his cast mates on “Suppertime,” a big song and dance number that is grandiosely over-the-top. As Snoopy’s pal Woodstock, future superstar Emily May dances up a storm. From ballet to tap to jazz, she glides expertly across the stage, pulling double duty as the tiny bird and as Linus’ blanket in a beautifully choreographed dream sequence. This young lady performed with more confidence than many actors three times her age!
“You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown” is family friendly fun. The audience varied in age from nine to 90, and everyone was smiling and standing at the end. Ken Clark’s spare but effective set evokes the feeling of being in one of Charles Schultz’s comic strips.
Jean Heckmann’s costumes are mostly plucked right from the colored strips that used to run on Sundays in the “funny papers.” The only exception is Sally, whose blue-hued dress might be a bit too similar to Lucy’s and confusing for younger audiences. That’s not a complaint though.
Music director Karla Curry leads the Alpha Players Band admirably – especially for Schroeder’s piano solos. Choreographer Stefanie Kluba does a fantastic job showcasing May’s talent.
The show’s book, music and lyrics are by Clark Gesner, with additional dialog by Michael Mayer and additional music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa.
Bring the whole family out for a night at the theatre!
“You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown” runs May 18, 19, 25, & 26, 2018, at 7:30 p.m. and May 27 at 2 p.m, at the Florissant Civic Center Theatre. For more information, visit www.alphaplayers.org