BWW Interview: Director Michael Vine Shares How YOU'RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN Brings Iconic Comics To Life At Marietta Theatre Company
The Peanuts comic characters created by Charles Schulz have been beloved by people all over the world for more than 70 years. The musical comedy YOU'RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN, which showcases the adventures of the same characters, is also beloved and had gathered a cult following of musical theatre lovers. The ensemble show follows Charlie Brown, his dog sidekick Snoopy, and his troupe of friends Linus, Lucy, Sally and Schroder as Charlie searches for the path to being a good person - with some amazing songs to perform along the way. As Marietta Theatre Company prepares to present this show, we spoke with director Michael Vine to discuss how the production elevates the storylines from the comic strip page to the stage.
How's the process been going of putting the show together?
MV: Its been so much fun. You think you know how much a story or a group of characters means to people, until you start to work on a play like this. I thought that I knew Peanuts, I've known Charlie Brown, and how much a part of the cultural lexicon he and these characters are. But then, just the other day, a cast member brought a school mug that her father had back in the 60s that had Peanuts characters on it. And someone else had a boxful of the comic strips. That part of it has been really fun. And also, this cast is gelling together in a way that you always hope will happen with any ensemble cast. But this cast really does feel like a "gang", which is more than I could ever hope for. I was just talking with our choreographer who was joking about how the two actors who are playing Sally and Snoopy, which are thick as thieves in the show and the comics, and those two actors have been almost inseparable in this rehearsal process! They are adding and creating stuff and infusing so much joy. Its really fun to watch them create.
I understand that in addition to the beloved and well-known songs from the score, there will be two new songs added. Can you tell me about those?
MV: So YOU'RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN was a musical that originally premiered way back in the 1960s. But then about 20 years ago, there was a Broadway revival of the production. In the revival, the creative team had added a character track for Sally, which didn't exist in the original musical. Because at that time, Sally hadn't even been introduced in the comics. So they added a few songs for that character, and the revival was a huge success on Broadway and beyond and has gathered a cult following in the ensuing years. So the version that we are doing is that one.
Obviously hardcore theatre fans are familiar with the plot and production, and there's general audiences who are familiar with the Peanuts characters. But can you describe the show for those who aren't?
MV: Watching the musical feels a little bit like an anthology of the comic strips. When I was doing some research for the show, I decided to buy some of the anthology books. I thought at first I would buy one book that has every single peanuts strip ever written. Then I realized that number is over 17,000 and there is no way one book could ever contain all of them! I've been struck in rehearsing this play how much it feels like reading through one of those books. Where you'll have a few things that are referenced and a few storylines that will track over the course of the entire musical. But you also get to see little snapshots of these character interactions. In that way, it feels like you are reading comic strips. I love that so much, because it also allows you to see the characters and say - that is the Linus Van Pelt that I know and love. Obviously I cannot speak for the creators of this show, but instead of trying to take the Peanuts gang and send them on an adventure that's new, they have made it an experience where people come to the theater to hear some things they haven't heard before, but they get a really good amount of time seeing these characters doing the things that have made them iconic over 70 years.
What's your favorite part about directing this show? What's challenging?
MV: One of the things that makes this show so wonderful is something that always makes it very tricky. There are some moments where we get to see a comic strip come to life. But the downside to that is that a comic strip only takes barely 10 seconds to read. So my challenge as a director is ensuring that those transitions work, and maintain a through line so that the audience doesn't feel jolted between these scenes. I've long loved this musical and have been a part of the cult following that it gathered. I have spent much of the last 10 years of my life with this soundtrack. Whenever I listen to the soundtrack, I think to myself, 'I want to play Sally!', 'I want to play Lucy!' I want to play all the characters! As soon as Marietta Theatre Company announced that they were going to produce this play, I wanted to be involved in any way that I could. When I was approached to direct this play, I don't think that they've ever received a "yes" faster than they got from me! Its been such a joy to watch the cast bring their love of the Peanuts gang to create these characters. It's been a rare intersection of something that is very challenging and difficult so that you learn a lot from it, but also incredibly rewarding so that I'm always looking forward to going to work.
YOU'RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN will run at the Lyric Studio on the Square from April 12 - 27, Thursdays - Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. Tickets start at $25 and are on sale now at https://mariettatheatre.tix.com. Individual tickets and VIP tables for the shows are also available for purchase.
Michael Vine is a director, actor, and producer from Greensboro, North Carolina. Michael has worked as an actor, director, and educator with Actor's Express, The Shakespeare Tavern, Marietta Theatre Company, The Performer's Warehouse, and the Alliance Theatre, among others. Last fall, he also directed "The 1940's Radio Hour" at Milton High School, which was named "Best Production" at the 2018 Georgia Theatre Conference R. Lynn Wooddy Festival. Michael serves as the Education Manager at Georgia Ensemble Theatre and as a producer for Shakespeare on Draught.