BWW Review: Peanuts Gang Still Charms in Rooftop Productions' YOU'RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN
There is some comfort in the fact that Charlie Brown still pines for the "little red-headed girl," and his imaginative and (mostly) faithful beagle Snoopy is still mounting his dog house to fly into the skies to battle the Red Baron.
Of course, I recently took in a performance of the venerable musical YOU'RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN to witness such moments and many more classic exchanges from the Peanuts gang. For those us who grew up on the comic strips, collections, television specials, and original movies, revisiting Snoopy, Lucy, Linus, and that blockhead Charlie Brown is always a welcome diversion from the mundane world. Charles M. Schulz's creation were part of our daily and collective DNA for five decades until Mr. Schulz retired in 1999, passing away within a short amount of time. Reruns of Peanuts strips still run but the impact of Charlie Brown and company has diminished significantly.
We need to return to the late 1960s for the true heyday of Schulz's creations when the theatre came calling and immortalized Charlie, Lucy and others as musical characters in the little Off-Broadway hit called YOU'RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN. It originally ran more than 1000 performances and has become a staple in little theatres and high school auditoriums ever since. The 1999 revisal adding Charlie's sister Sally Brown and tweaked the book and tunestack, but it is the 1967 version that Rooftop Productions have dusted off and brought to their intimate theatre space atop the Candy Factory in downtown Manassas.
What could be simpler than a six character musical, taking the audience through a comic strip-style plot with cute songs interjecting throughout? Not much. And in the same style as the 1967 original, grown-ups take on the personas of the five, six, seven and eight year old characters Schulz embued with adult insight and a unique wit. Show creator Clark Gesner was able to capture the essence of the famous characters while increasing their appeal with memorable tunes for just about every character.
The Rooftop Productions effort does well by the Gesner and Schulz creation. Director Ted Ballard keeps things simple, just as Schulz presented his characters in pen and ink. Coupled with identifiably perfect costumes by Mandy Ken, and cartoon inspired, primary-colored set pieces designed by Dale Walsh, Ballard's cast is able to bring to life the wit and wisdom of the Peanuts gang.
Aaron Verchot-Ware strikes the perfect balance of blah-likability and wide-eyed wonder in the title role. Verchot-Ware's renditions of Charlie Brown's monologues and songs work very well. He holds his own with the formidable Lucy Van Pelt, played with power and verve by Laura Mills. Mills possesses the young Ethel Merman persona made famous by Lucy, as portrayed in the cartoon adaptations and has the belter of a voice to go with it.
Ryan Walker (no relation to this critic) cuts a cute, intelligent and heartfelt figure as Lucy's little brother Linus. Wise beyond his years, Linus is always a fan favorite and Walker handles the character with style. He is delightful in the charm-song "My Blanket and Me."
Debbie Franck makes the most of Patty's moments. It should be noted that Patty in the 1967 musical is the original Patty introduced by Schulz early on in the strips, not the iconic Peppermint Patty, who became part of the gang later. Another one of Schulz's original characters, the Beethoven-loving Schroeder (and Lucy's unrequited love interest) is part of the episodic action and is played here by Nick Macfarlane.
As the Charlie Brown's scene-stealing pooch, Jay Tilley has the most fun as Snoopy, dressed in white shirt and shorts and a Beagle-eared headband to complete his look as the savviest canine in comic strip history. Tilley presents his Snoopy with child-like glee, embracing the witty lines, imaginative antics, and the dog's memorable musical moments like a showbiz pro. To be honest, after a bit of a lull on opening night, Tilley's showstopping "Suppertime" was a welcome boost to the evening. I fully imagine he will continue to perk things up and get to "drop the bone" (aka mic) at every performance.
One special mention goes out to the cast and musicians of this production, particularly on opening night, which unfortunately for them coincided with the Manassas "Cinco de Mayo" celebration,including the Mexican restaurant and bar right across the street from the Candy Factory. In spite of the thumping beat of the extremely loud music surrounding the top floor theatre space that never wavered for the two hour running time, the cast never missed a beat and soldiered on bringing the show to life. My hat is off to them for such professionalism.
I fully recommend this production, with one tiny caveat. As I sat there Friday night, watching and listening, it occurred to me just how YOU'RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN has aged. Unlike some 1960s musicals that have stood the test of time, this one has creaks a little. I hope parents and grandparents bring their children to this show, but some younger audience members might need a primer on who the heck the Peanuts gang is.
That being said, as speaking as a person who was born right at the shift from the Baby Boomers and Generation X, I welcomed my visit with Lucy, Linus, Snoopy and the rest. Celebrating the simple joys of childhood, the lure of imagination, and friendship is a welcome reminder to anyone of a certain age. It's a good show, Charlie Brown.
YOU'RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN produced by Rooftop Productions at the Candy Factory - Center for the Arts of Greater Manassas/Prince William County. The show runs Fridays and Saturdays, May 5-20, 2017 at 8 pm. Two hours, one intermission.
Kellar Family Theater, The Center for the Arts at The Candy Factory, 419 Battle Street, Manassas, VA 20110.
Tickets are $20 General Admission and $18 for Seniors 65+ and Students. Tickets are available at the door or can be purchased online at https://center-for-the-arts.org/tickets/.
PHOTO CREDITS: Rooftop Productions, Ted Ballard
Follow Jeff Walker on Twitter - @jeffwalker66