BWW Review: YOU'RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN at Mile Square Theatre
Mary Catherine Burke, director of Mile Square Theatre's production of "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" has a stated preference for comedy with bite. In this she successfully mines Charles Shultz' Peanuts comic strip for all the inherent anxiety and wit. Her team - including the cast - create a production with bark (sorry) that captures Shultz' philosophical musings and flights of fanciful imagination. With strong bright Sunday comic, Saturday morning cartoon candy colored lighting (Elaine Wong) and a wisely kid perspective skewing set (Jen Price Fick) and musical director (Terri Gorgone) at the keys, the intrepid, peppy cast of six sings and dances their way into your hearts. They are a wily charming bunch who radiate atomic warm into a smiling audience.
The pliable cast is insanely expressive physically, facially, and especially vocally as a group. Sit up close for a good view of their broad facial expressions and to hear the wondrous harmonies. Picture a brassy, bossy Lucy (Rachel Eddy) leaning flirtaously on Schroeder's (an engaging bright singing Marcus Beckett) piano at a 90-degree angle. Schroeder and Sally (Claire Rea) snappily creating new philosophies. Snoopy (Brandon Santoro) in a Jolsonesque ode to his best time of day. Charlie Brown (Mikey LoBalsamo) is plaintive, funny, forlorn, and optimistic -yearning for the unseen red-headed girl; worrying about lunch, baseball, and flying a kite. And Linus (Chris Goodrich) is expressive as the matter-of-fact obsessive of thumb and blanket. Sarah Weber Gallo's choreography has this rubber limbed cast shining with subtly witty turns. This is a well-cast production. The group numbers are strongest especially act 2's delicately falling apart "Home on the Range," the title song, and the finale.
Burke skillfully helps the cast tap their inner child with wide eyes, pitchy speaking voices, and impressionable on the dime turns from existential angst ("I was jumping rope ... and all of a sudden everything seemed so futile") to exuberance. Much of the show's comedy derives from the endless abuse the other kids heap on poor Charlie. The good impressions mainly come during the deadpan bits pulled straight from the comics, not the songs. The show moves at a steady clip. If one gag doesn't land, within a half a blink another comes shooting along. The cast is assured and fun to watch.
A 1999 Broadway dusted off Clark Gesner's shaky original book, and more sturdy music, and lyrics "Happiness" and "Suppertime" remain his classic strongest numbers. Andrew Lippa's "My New Philosophy" shines in the hands of Rea and Beckett.
There's no schlock sentimentality here. Maybe it is the age we are viewing the material in. The material in the hands of Mile Square Theatre is wry, edgy, and anxiously entertaining. Children's problems as a metaphor for adults' may not play assiduously well with the kids, but the adults will enjoy the production's kick. The raffish cast is endearing, devious, energetic and entertainingly expressive.
The show plays through February. More information at milesquaretheatre.org