BWW Review: CHARLIE BROWN, With a Kind of New Twist at Theatre in the Circle
In the Spring of 1967 a group of theater students from Lorain County Community College went to New York to get their first experience with Broadway.
One of the shows they saw was YOU'RE A GOOD MAN CHARLIE BROWN. Fortunately, due to a friendship between one of the LCCC faculty and Clark Gesner, who wrote the music and lyrics for the show based on the "Peanuts" characters created by cartoonist, Charles M. Schulz," the students not only got to meet the writer, but spent time socializing with the cast.
This connection led to LCCC's Drama Department getting permission to stage one of the first amateur productions of the work.
"Peanuts" is often thought of as just a cartoon about kids. It is, but in fact, it is infused withphilosophical, psychological, and sociological overtones. Not only are relationships, concepts about the American educational system, family connections and the angst of childhood showcased, but as stated in the book, "The Gospel According to Peanuts," "it sheds more light on the Christian faith and how it is to be lived than many more serious theological works."
"Peanuts"is among the most popular comics with 17,897 strips published. At its peak in the mid-to-late 1960s, the strip ran in over 2,600 newspapers, with a readership of around 355 million in 75 countries, and was translated into 21 languages.
The strip focuses on a social circle of young children, where adults exist but are rarely seen or heard.
The main character, Charlie Brown, is a meek, nervous boy who lacks self-confidence. He is unable to fly a kite, win a baseballgame, or kick a footballheld by his irascible friend, Lucy, who always pulls it away at the last instant. "Good grief Charlie Brown!"
The musical, which, during its off-Broadway and subsequent revivals, has starred such theater and television stars as Gary Burghoff (Radar on "Mash"), Anthony Rapp (RENT) and Kristin Chenoweth (WICKED). The LCCC production featured Crissy Wilczak, who went on to Great White Way fame in A CHORUS LINE, 1940s RADIO HOUR, SEESAW and was featured in TV's "Mork and Mindy."
The musical opens with Charlie Brown sitting alone as his friends give their various opinions of him. Today everyone is singing "You're a Good Man Charlie Brown," rather than berating him for the many stumbles as he follows his life path.
The usually depressed Charlie Brown is happy and hopeful, that is, until he notices the Little Red-Haired Girl, who he secretly loves. He decides to go sit with her. However, in typical Charlie Brown fashion, he cannot find the courage to do so, winding up putting his lunch bag over his head in utter frustration.
As the tale goes on, Lucyexpresses her deep infatuation with Schroederand asks him what he thinks of the idea of marriage. Schroeder remains aloof as he continues to play his piano. Sally is sad because her jump rope tangled up. And so the tale of Charlie Brown and his "pals" goes on, with humor, pathos and such songs as "My Blanket and Me," "Queen Lucy," "The Kite," "The Book Report," "Suppertime" and "Happiness" are sung.
Theatre in the Circle presented YOU'RE A GOOD MAN CHARLIE BROWN by adding a "new wrinkle or two." Though the show is usually done with adults playing Charlie and the gang, this production features actors of "a certain age." These are not spry young twenty-somethings. They are closer to having to use canes and walkers to traverse the stage. No amount of makeup is going to conceal the frown and laugh lines of lives well spent.
George Roth is properly introspective as Charlie Brown. Former "Scene" drama critic, Christine Howey, was born to play the sarcastic, grumpy, self-centered Lucy. Agnes Herrmann is adorable as Patty. Bob Navis, Jr. is piano-centric as Schroeder. Kevin Kelly, the king of overacting and shtick, has a wonderful time as Snoopy. Noah Budin is endearing as thumb-sucking, blanket-obsessed Linus.
Director Bill Corcoran keeps the show zipping right along (well, as zipping as he can get a cast of slow moving seniors to move.)
CAPSULE JUDGMENT: "Happiness" is watching a mainly "mature" opening night audience delight in seeing YOU'RE A GOOD MAN CHARLIE BROWN (with a new wrinkle) at Theatre in the Circle. (Unfortunately, the show only had a one-weekend run so there is no chance to see it.)
All TITC performances are staged at the historic Judson Manor, 1890 E. 107th St, Cleveland, OH 44106. Curtain times are Thursday, Friday and Saturday @ 7:30 pm and Saturday and Sunday @ 2 pm. Ticket cost: Adults $20, Seniors $18, Judson/South Franklin Circle residents $15, Students $12. For tickets call 216-282-9424 or go to theatreinthecircle.com. There is free parking.