BWW Reviews: It¬'s a Good Show, CHARLIE BROWN, at Broad Brook Opera House
You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown
Based on the Comic Strip by Charles M. Schulz
Book, Lyrics & Music by Clark Gesner
Additional Dialogue by Michael Mayer
Additional Music & Lyrics by Andrew Lippa
Directed by Brett Gottheimer
Performed by the Opera House Players at the Broad Brook Opera House through November 25
Just back from seeing the new James Bond film seems like the perfect time to write my review of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. Linking Ian Fleming’s British secret agent with Charles M. Schulz’s comic creation “Peanuts,” might seem, well, odd. If you give me a moment, you will see where I am headed and why the comparison is apt.
The “Peanuts” comic strip is one of the longest-running funny pages fixtures, having debuted in 1950 and continuing up through 2000 – a fifty-year run. James Bond debuted in print in 1953. Charlie Brown and friends first came to life onstage in 1967. James Bond first appeared on screen in 1962. With Skyfall, Bond celebrates his 50-year run on film. Both Bond and “Peanuts” are cultural touchstones, both satisfyingly revived at the moment.
Many of the pleasures of Skyfall come when we are reintroduced to characters and trademarks that we have come to associate and love with Bond – M, Q, the vodka martini, etc. The movie trades on our familiarity and the audience chuckles with every knowing, winking reference.
Within the first few minutes of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, now playing in a production by the Opera House Players at the Broad Brook Opera House, the audience is treated to images, phrases and characters that make us feel right at home. With the first “Good grief!,” mention of “the little red-haired girl” and downed kite, we are transported back to those moments when we would go diving for the newspaper to find out what was happening with Snoopy, Lucy, Linus, Schroeder, Sally, and, of course, Charlie Brown.
The simple production isn’t going to win any points for originality, but with this charming exercise in nostalgia, it seems unnecessary. Watching the show, I wondered if updating the costuming, the cartoon set, and swapping out Snoopy’s dreaded Red Baron for a terrorist of some sort would kill the magic. Perhaps, but director Brett Gottheimer toes the line and delivers a generally satisfying production. At a minimum, Linus has been given a laptop.
The plot is essentially nonexistent. The show merely follows Charlie Brown and friends through something approaching a day (hard to actually call it a day as April Fool’s Day and Valentine’s are both celebrated within the course of the show). The songs and book by Clark Gesner manage to convey that unique balance that Charles M. Schulz struck between childhood and adult neuroses. Two additional songs, “Beethoven Day” and “My New Philosophy,” were later added seamlessly for a 1999 revival.
Andrew Small is tasked with playing the title character. Surprisingly, this isn’t an easy role – one has to be somewhat of a depressing loser, but lovable at the same time. Small manages to strike the right notes, while sometimes being more of a whiner than we normally associate with Charlie Brown. In a fit of hip, transgender casting, Snoopy is now a girl played by Lauren Rozek. Rozek delivers a sweet performance, but forgets that the beloved beagle was always the coolest character in the strip – a canine Bond, if you will. Her show-closing “Suppertime” is an apt and energetic finale.
The combative siblings, Linus and Lucy, are played by James Rhone and Grace Gentile. Rhone nails Linus’s unique cross-section of freakish intelligence with thumb-sucking insecurity. His Act 1 number “My Blanket and Me” is a highlight. Gentile’s Lucy is well-sung, but problematic. Her performance as the resident crabby bully is not quite big enough to make her formidable. Many of her laugh lines fall harder than Charlie Brown after missing that troublesome football.
Garth West renders a lovable version of that Beethoven-obsessed Schroeder and brings down the house with his gospel-tinged “Beethoven Day.” The star-turn in the cast belongs to Alyse Katherine Pilch. In the 1967 original, the character of Sally, Charlie Brown’s overconfident sister, was actually Patty. In 1999, a switch was made, presumably for the better as Sally is a wonderful comic creation. The part was originated by Kristen Chenoweth in a star-making performance and Pilch follows in her squeaky, comic footsteps. One would have to be a blockhead to miss it.
Photo of Alyse Katherine Pilch and Andrew Smalls by TIna Clark of Viviana’s Photography.