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BWW Review: YOU'RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN at South Coast Rep

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Good grief! You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown Is Live But Sadly Not Alive

BWW Review: YOU'RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN at South Coast Rep

When I told friends I was seeing You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown as my first live Performance in 18 months, I had to remind them this wasn't a middle school production, but part of the award-winning South Coast Repertory's season. When I walked out of You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown, I had to remind myself this wasn't a middle school production, but part of the award-winning South Coast Repertory's season. A combination of miscasting, poor direction, and a play that runs out of steam, this early production in the reemergence of live theater is a disappointment.

The original You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown was a concept album created by Clark Gesner, which was converted to an off-Broadway production in 1967, containing character songs and vignettes written by Gesner and original cast members, but submitted under the pseudonym John Gordon (http://www.guidetomusicaltheatre.com/shows_y/youre_charlie_brown.htm). In 1999, the musical first reached Broadway with additional songs by Andrew Lippa (The Addams Family) and libretto adjustments by Michael Mayer. South Coast Rep has chosen this form of the script to perform.

The story follows Charlie Brown (Matthew Henerson), the eternal blockhead, and his best friends Linus (Ricky Abilez), the intellectual with a blanket fetish, Schroeder (Brian Kim), the classical music maestro, Sally (Grace Yoo), his bratty sister, Lucy (Kelley Dorney), the bossy flippant ringleader, and Snoopy (Derek Manson), the Brown family's quixotic warrior beagle who dreams of conquering the Red Baron and getting the best out of Suppertime. The gang suffer through disastrous baseball games, infuriating book reports, and general childhood malaise. But in the end, they remind each other that "Happiness" is all around them.

The original 1967 songs are buoyant as ever, seizing the moods and quirkiness of Charles M. Schulz's beloved comic strip. "The Book Report," where each character is trapped by their inability to clearly summarize the Tale of Peter Rabbit, will remind all of us traumatized former students how much we hated class assignments. "Suppertime," Snoopy's ode to his delicious treats, is a joyous display. Of the new Lippa songs, "My New Philosophy" is a winner for Sally's caustic manner. "Rabbit Chasing" and "Beethoven's Day" are both lackluster additions and the new orchestrations for the title number are a bit too '80s-sounding.

Director Kari Hayter fails to find a rhythm for the multiple vignettes so that the evening doesn't become repetitive. The pacing lags in the second half. Her choreography in "My Blanket and Me" is inventive and gives the number a pep that other numbers required but lacked.

Of the cast, the standouts are Dorney as a snobbish Lucy and Manson as the springy Snoopy. Both capture the youthfulness required to suspend audiences' beliefs and evoke the humor of their comic strip counterparts. Yoo and Abilez come alive in their songs, but are less effective building a consistent character in their skits. Kim, who has an excellent singing voice that he only gets to show off occasionally, fails to conjure Schroeder's childlike innocence or prodigy behavior. Henerson is miscast as the title character. He has issues hitting the upper range of his songs, never appears to be a child like the other performances, and resembles both in his appearance and his acting as if he wandered in from an audition to play Tony Soprano.

Because of the outdoor setting, it is difficult to judge Lonnie Rafael Alcaraz's lighting design. Efren Delgadillo Jr's scenic design was simplistic, but did include several inspired moments, such as Charlie Brown's nemesis, his uncooperative kite, and the floating blanket for Linus' number. Kish Finnegan's costumes were appropriately amateurish, which fit with the appropriateness of a comic strip adaptation.

Does You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown's text cripple the South Coast Repertory's production or has the direction and inconsistent acting removed the joy of the play's text? Only a philosopher as wise as Snoopy can be sure. Unfortunately, this version of the comic book musical feels as crumbled as a mismanaged comics section of your Sunday paper.

You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown will be at the Mission San Juan Capistrano until August 1st. Tickets can be purchased directly at the SCR site https://www.scr.org/calendar/view?id=12353.

Photo by Jenny Graham.


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