A Big Hand For YOU'RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN At DoodleHATCH in Columbia

Super-Inclusive Stand Up For....Theatre Explores Childhood Emotions Through June 23, 2024

By: Jun. 20, 2024
A Big Hand For YOU'RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN At DoodleHATCH in Columbia
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Kid-friendly art museum, kid-friendly theater, family-appropriate fun with an inclusive mission. Have you heard? Columbia, Maryland is home to DoodleHATCH interactive art museum, an ongoing exhibition/playland that frequently incorporates community talent to grow and change its displays. And DoodleHATCH is not just visual art. With the ongoing residency of the super-inclusive Stand Up For ….Theatre company, one may now enjoy the dramatic arts there, as well. Currently running is YOU’RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN, which is a delightfully accessible production, and will close its run with a sensory-sensitive performance on Sunday, June 23rd.

YOU’RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN is an odd little script. First of all, it’s unusual for a musical to be based on a comic strip. It’s even more unusual for it to retain a comic-strip format. YOU’RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN does. It makes for choppy action, with no clear plotline as such. To keep the interest of the audience, a choppy script needs to move very quickly, a thing that’s harder to achieve in live theater than it looks on television. The jokes also need to ‘land’ precisely, possibly a tricky proposition for humor that is more than 50 years old. Director Ed Higgins and the excellent cast have stellar timing and keep the pace brisk without seeming frantic. The second important thing to know is that there are two versions of the show, one dating from 1967, the other a 1999 revival/rewrite that altered the cast and added three songs. The one being presented by Stand Up For ….Theatre is the ‘67 script, music and lyrics by Clark Gesner, ‘book’ by Charles Schulz and "John Gordon," a collective pseudonym including Gesner, cast members, and production staff, whose assembled contributions resulted in the original produced script. 

I suspect some enjoyment of YOU’RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN stems from a knowledge of the comic strip characters and their personalities. I wonder whether this show will appeal to people who are unfamiliar with the Peanuts catalog. This could include a significant youth contingent who may have never seen an actual newspaper. For Peanuts fans, however, it’s a treat to see these beloved characters, their innocence and wisdom, embodied on the stage. The script has no plot per se. It’s a collection of short sequences, one-liners, character monologues and songs that are arranged in an order that suggests the layout of a newspaper: short thing here, longer thing next, something for the bottom or top of the page here, here’s a place for a little blurb and something really juicy at the beginning and end. Despite this, there is an emotional arc to the show that resonates nicely. 

I am in staunch support of  Stand Up For ….Theatre’s mission. As stated on their website, that is “to advance the cause of acceptance of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning (LGBTQ) Community in and around the BaltimoreWashington DC suburban area….to facilitate an open and free flowing dialog between the LGBTQ and the Non-LGBT communities….promote the ideals of acceptance and equality. To create an awareness of hate and hate crimes against all races, genders, sexual identity and humanity as a whole.”

This conversation between LGBTQIA+ individuals and their communities begins with Stand Up For ….Theatre’s material. The script of YOU’RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN, while not Q+ specific, adjusts the show’s focus from simple Sunday “funnies” to highlight contemporary relevant social topics. The characters become less two-dimensional, no longer simply the butt of a series of jokes. Should we examine Schroeder’s hyperfocus? Have we considered Charlie Brown’s self-image issues as anxiety? Can we classify Lucy’s incessant harassment of everyone around her as bullying? Director Ed Higgins makes sure that we do. 

Higgins also delivers very child-like children, who chase each other around, argue over nonsense and feel every feeling INTENSELY. Additionally, every member of the cast seems very comfortable with every other cast member, fostering onstage a kindergarten-ish closeness common in groups of small children. 

There is something to be said for age-appropriateness. Just as I think it’s weird to see a high-school production of MAMA MIA, I would find a production of YOU’RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN done with actors over 40 rather unsettling. Never fear; Director Ed Higgins has assembled a cast of youthful folk who have a fresh-faced look which goes a long way to our belief in them as elementary school students. 

In the crucial title role of Charlie Brown, Aaron Partin delivers the right combination of hopefulness and world-weariness that has held such long-term appeal to the fans of The Peanuts. He has clarity, earnestness, and a very enjoyable singing voice. His interactions with each of the other characters are genuine and subtly different with each one.

Lucy van Pelt, arguably Charlie Brown’s strongest advocate- hear me out; she has high expectations of him STILL, despite years of evidence of his basic mediocrity- must be played by a confident, flexible performer.  Amariya Kailo nails it, selling the ‘sparkle’ of Lucy’s personality as well as her strength. Her singing is clear and lovely, especially in her featured number, “Schroeder.”  Her mood swings are hilarious.

Landi Rodriguez plays Lucy’s brother Linus, complete with blanket attachment, and the serious calmness Linus displays as a balance to Lucy’s volatility. Landi’s expressive face during sequences with Amariya Kailo’s Lucy makes it clear that while intimidated by Lucy, Linus is not actively frightened of her. When Linus has a monologue, we relate. I think most of us have been attached to an item or idea that reassures us when the world is large and strange. “My Blanket And Me” is adorable, and choreography by director Ed Higgins is uncomplicated, but visually gratifying.

As Patty, Charlie Tell is impetuous, exasperated and engaged, and seriously committed to the role of plucky comic relief, providing some of the show’s biggest laughs. Tell’s physicality and gestures capture playground enthusiasm, and Tell’s vocals contribute cheerfully to the ensemble numbers. Chloe Scully, playing Schroeder, is focused and intense and completely oblivious to most of the carryings-on of the group. In particular, Schroeder ignores Lucy, who really is difficult to ignore, so props to Scully for maintaining proper focus throughout the show. Scully really comes alive during “Book Report,” and hints of a rich internal life that Schroeder’s general demeanor conceals.

Playing the oft-coveted role of Snoopy, Cory Bauer is warm, wry, self-aware and bemused. Bauer’s expressiveness vocally and physically manage to convey both dog and not-dog, as the Snoopy character is written and interpreted. His dry delivery is (forgive the pun) spot-on.

Don’t look for Sally, Charlie Brown’s little sister. She doesn’t appear in this show until 1973, when Charles Schulz replaced Patty with Sally in the animated Hallmark TV special. The 1999 stage update followed his lead when they expanded the musical. 

Providing music for all the songs and interstitials is a 3-person “pit” of Mimi McGinniss on piano, Casey Jones on percussion and David Booth on flute. Though a full orchestration of YOU’RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN is available, the eloquence of Clark Gesner’s music shines with the excellence of just a few musicians. 

The musical numbers are not dance extravaganzas, but they are active and interesting. I enjoy the staging of the opening number, “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown,” and it cheerfully sets the tone for the show. The closing number, "Happiness," puts a sweet bow on the whole package.

The set, designed by Landi Rodriguez, which includes beautiful batik fabric-covered flats at the edges, is a raised platform upstage and the floor in front of the seating, and includes a brick half-wall which stays on stage. Scene-specific pieces travel on and off the stage swiftly through the magic of the run crew, headed by Stage Manager Kathy McCrory. Many of the pieces are donated or lent to DoodleHATCH and Stand Up For ….Theatre from different local theatre companies.

Costumes, designed by Cathy Pritchard and Grant Myers, with an assist from the proprietress of DoodleHATCH and lead designer of the Lee Andersen brand, Lee Andersen herself, are illustrative without feeling contrived. Lucy’s blue dress doesn’t look exactly like the cartoon, but it doesn’t need to. The striped shirts are terrific, and it takes a only a quick peek at old comics to realize Schulz had a penchant for them- to distinguish the characters from one another when they were printed in black & white, perhaps- so by adhering to that unwritten ‘standard,’ Pritchard and Myers create a unity of the cast so a group shot is immediately identifiable as “The Peanuts.” 

Choosing to focus on traits of The Peanuts that could, by today’s definitions, qualify them as ‘neuro-spicy,’ Director Ed Higgins makes the group, who have been around since the 1950s, relatable and socially relevant to contemporary audiences. Whether or not we know that a Sopwith Camel is a World War I biplane, we certainly understand how it feels to have things not go our way, to need peer advice, to be certain that those around us are being ridiculous, to enjoy triumph, however brief, and to feel our human feelings, which The Peanuts do so well, and particularly so in this production. 

RUNNING TIME: 1 hour 45 minutes, including a 15 minute intermission.

See YOU’RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN by Stand Up For… Theatre 

at 7:00 PM Friday 6/21

7:00 PM Saturday 6/22 and

3:00 PM Sunday 6/23. The matinee will be a sensory-sensitive performance. 

at DoodleHatch Interactive Art Museum - 8775 Cloudleap Ct, Columbia, MD 21045

Tickets are available online - adults $22, children/seniors/military $20. Group discounts are available. DoodleHATCH is handicap accessible.

Photo: Cast of YOU'RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN- L to R- Chloe Scully as Schroeder, Landi Rodriguez as Linus, Aaron Partin as Charlie Brown, Cory Bauer as Snoopy, Amariya Kailo as Lucy, and Charlie Tell as Patty

Photo Credit: Stand Up For ...Theatre


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