Beyond Louisville Interview: 8 Questions with Lauren Molina & Nick Cearley of YOU'RE A GOOD MAN CHARLIE BROWN at Cincinnati Playhouse In The Park
As long as most people can remember, Charles Shulz's creation "The Peanuts" has been a staple in American culture. It started as a successful and witty comic strip, but those characters would evolve and cement themselves with the creation of countless holiday TV specials, and a musical adaptation, You're a Good Man Charlie Brown. A brand new actor-musician concept of the show is currently making a big splash at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. Stars of the show and co-conceivers of this new production, Lauren Molina (who plays Lucy) and Nick Cearley (who plays Linus) took the time to answer a few questions about the show:
1. Where did the idea for this new concept of "You're a Good Man Charlie Brown" come from? What sparked its creation.
Nick: I was inspired to create an actor-musician production after seeing John Doyle's 2005 Broadway revival of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street in which Lauren played Johanna and the small cast told the entire story by also playing the instruments onstage. When I saw that, I immediately thought to myself "How can I do that? What would lend itself to that unique and creative way of telling a story?" We are always looking for the perfect project to do together that would marry our strengths as actor-musicians. We immediately started brainstorming other ideas that would cater to our strengths while providing new insight on a classic.
Lauren: I remember having discussions with Nick about how cool it would be to do "...Charlie Brown" where the actors would be the band. We always thought that quirky and out of the box kid instruments like toy pianos, glockenspiels, and ukuleles would lend itself to the profound adult philosophies being discussed in the show with very sophisticated instruments like cello, piano, bass, banjo, etc as well.
Nick: In the show I play: ukulele, banjolele, an 8 string ukulele, piano, melodica, glockenspiel, boomwhackers, recorder, and for this production I'm playing tons of percussion, the drum kit, cajon, and washboard, to name a few.
Lauren: I play bass, cello, guitar, piano, melodica, toy piano, some drum kit, bass ukulele. I play ukulele and mandolin but not in the show. 3. What made Cincinnati the perfect place to try this specific production?
Lauren: Playhouse has such a wonderful track record of actor instrument productions. Every year they seem to focus on an actor instrument piece. Last year, they did Hunter Foster's directed Million Dollar Quartet, next year they are doing Buddy. John Doyle's Company began here, then went on to Broadway to win a Tony Award! Doyle's Merrily We Roll Along also started here.
Nick: The Playhouse knows how to nurture these productions, and prepare for the needs of the actors as musicians. They have the tools and know what to expect. Also audiences embrace the concept without question. I can't think of another regional theatre in America that specializes in this kind of story telling and has the resources and seasoned stage management and technical teams to be able to cater to the unique skills needed to build and put a show like this together. 4. Are there any other musicals you guys would like to give the same treatment?
Lauren: Hmmm, good question. I would normally say a Sondheim, but those have almost all been done. It might be cool to explore a version of Hair this way, or Children of Eden, Jacques Brel, Parade...just off the top of my head. Ideally though I'd love to create something from scratch as a next project.
Nick: I would be interested in creating a new show that doesn't already exist with this kind of treatment. I have always been attracted to Harry Nilsson's The Point which was an album and cartoon from the late 60's and early 70's that Nilsson wrote on an acid trip. I think the story that tells and the music would very much lend itself to the actor/musician world as it was written by a songwriter with a story to tell with adult themes but geared for children. If we are thinking of classic musicals to retell, I think The Music Man would be an intriguing show to do in this way. Oh, and I adore The Rocky Horror Show and I think the bizarre plot and rock score would very much lend itself to this concept. 5. You're both well known to most theatre people as "The Skivvies", where did the idea of that originate?
Nick: Lauren and I got our Equity cards together in 2003 doing The Just So Stories in a children's theatre national tour. We immediately hit it off and eventually became the best of friends. We started doing concerts together when we returned from that tour (for TheatreWorksUSA!) and would regularly make music together. It wasn't until 2012 when we got together at Lauren's house to make music when The Skivvies were born.
Lauren: We were putting a "stripped down" cover of Rihanna's "We Found Love" on YouTube (which we had never done before!) and Lauren was walking around her apartment searching for something to wear in just her bra.
Nick: I said "Why don't you just wear that?"
Lauren: And I thought "Yeah, we are stripping down the music. What if we stripped down literally to our underwear and never commented on it?" At that moment, my boyfriend from the kitchen said "You should call yourselves 'The Skivvies!'"
Nick: And from that day forward, its all history!
Lauren: Our videos began to go viral and I remember some of the earliest comments being "You guys are too talented! You don't need to take off your clothes!"
Nick: And to that I say, "If we hadn't you would not have clicked!" 6. Are there any cities you guys have yet to play that you would like to?
Nick: We have been so very lucky to play all over America. We are constantly on the move and truly always on the move.
Lauren: It's such a trip! We even played Puerto Vallarta in Mexico so I guess that makes us international!
Nick: I would say some dream places we have both spoken about would be definitely London, Berlin, Amsterdam, to name a few.
Lauren: We still haven't played my hometown of Detroit, Michigan so I know we would like to make that happen very soon as well. And Hawaii! 7. Seeing as this production has been a long time in the making, are there any plans for it post-Cincinnati?
Nick: Yes! Of course we don't want this to be a one and done.
Lauren: We have a lot of balls in the air for this one and excited to see the next step.
Nick: We have created such a creatively fulfilling world premiere first production of this musical.
Lauren: I think I speak for the both of us when I say we could do this show as long as people allow us. 8. If audiences walk away with one thing from You're a Good Man Charlie Brown what would you want it to be?
Nick: There is something about the way this show is constructed that makes you think. Whether it's through humor, melancholy, silence, or one sentence. It's such a uniquely relatable yet unconventional structure and with our "Peanuts as a band" concept, it takes on a whole new meaning. The poignant themes and philosophies that Charles Schulz originally intended to be heard are seen with a fresh eyes. I hope the audience feels a sense of whimsy, joy, and nostalgia.
Lauren: I echo what Nick said. And I would like to add that I hope they feel inspired, feel joy, and happiness, which is also the final song of the show that is impossible for me to get through without choking up a little.
Nick: This show was created by a group of 6 actors with Clark Gesner in 1967 for themselves. They worked with Clark to write the songs and scenes. When this show went on to be produced, they credited a pseudonym by the name of John Gordon as the book writer.
Lauren: A few years later, Gesner confessed that was a made up name. That exact essence and spirit of how the show was written and conceived originally is something we hoped to achieve with this production. Though we aren't able to change a word of the book, we were granted permission to change the arrangements to accommodate how we wanted to tell the story and we feel such a sense of creative fulfillment by tapping into what the original piece was trying to do in the first place.
Nick: It's not everyday your dreams come true and mine are certainly coming true every single night. I think the audiences are walking away feeling a little more connected to the Peanuts in a way they've never felt before.
You're A Good Man Charlie Brown is currently playing through May 18th in the Marx Theatre at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park.
For tickets visit www.cincyplay.com or call (513) 421-3888.