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BWW Review: YOU'RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN at Palm Canyon Theatre

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Peanuts Musical is Great Fun for the Entire Family!

BWW Review: YOU'RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN at Palm Canyon Theatre

Palm Canyon Theatre, Palm Springs' longest-lived theatre company, is back and I couldn't be happier! Rather than opening post-pandemic with a gigantic blockbuster, they decided on You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, a six-character musical that had started rehearsals when the pandemic pulled the plug last year. With so much uncertainty about restrictions, the producers thought that working with a smaller show would be safer and more flexible, and the audiences are the winners in that decision. The show induces smiles from the curtain opening until the final house lights. The Peanuts comic strip is ingrained in most Americans, and this production lets us revisit it with new-but-familiar situations and some great songs and dances.

I had initial fears about 5 - 8 year-olds being played by actors who are - well, let's just say that they are considerably older. I shouldn't have worried. All six actors, under the direction of Dr. William Layne, fully became the juveniles they were portraying, aided by Derik Shopinski's costumes and Mado Nunez's wigs.

First up, of course, is Charlie Brown, played by Palm Canyon's co-artistic director J. W. Layne. Layne has had a shaved head for many years, but usually has full facial hair. Seeing his smooth dome along with shaved face made him unrecognizable. Charlie Brown is the character against whose normalcy all the other characters are judged, and Layne's reactions to the madness around him were great, whether joy, upset, or total bewilderment at just how crazy his friends (and his dog) could be.

Keith Alexander's Linus, the youngest of the kids, was delightful in his innocence. He was constantly amazed and delighted by what was going on around him and the humor in his lines came from his honesty and lack of filter in delivering them. His older sister Lucy, played by Leslie Benjamin, is controlling, bossy, and yet totally surprised when she takes a survey and discovers everyone emphatically believes she is crabby.

Allegra Angelo's portrayal of Sally was one of the evening's delights. She never just walks on; she marches into a scene with purpose that only a six-year-old could value. She doesn't seem to know the word "uncertain." Sally sings a great song where everything that crosses her mind becomes her "new philosophy," with a Charles Shultz-type observation about how quickly kids can change their life's goals.

David Brooks as Schroeder is above all the childishness of the others, instead idolizing Beethoven and all things academic. A blond wig parted in the center and striped t-shirt brought the comic strip character to life, and Brooks' seriousness made me smile every time he was on stage.

And last - but by no means least - is Charlie Brown's best friend and faithful companion, Snoopy. In the accomplished hands of Paul Grant, the Peanuts gang has to hold on tight to keep scenes from being stolen from them. Grant's vocal chops were evident though never inappropriate for his character, and his rendition of "Suppertime" was a highlight.

Musical direction was very capably handled by Scott Smith. The company's normal three players was expanded to five with Smith at the piano, David Bronson on drums, Larry Holloway on bass, Mari Mizutani on violin/viola, and Alan Yankee playing a multitude of woodwinds.

J. W. Layne did triple duty: In addition to playing the lead, he designed the sets and the lighting. The play is structured as a series of very short scenes, emulating the three- and four-panel Peanuts comic strips. Layne very effectively had cartoon set pieces such as a door, a sofa, and a pitcher's mound "move themselves" on and off stage with black ropes at stage level, pulled by stagehands on each side of the stage. When such movement happens on Broadway, there are complex cables inside a false floor and expensive variable speed motors, but Layne's black ropes were easy to ignore on top of the black floor, and the movement of characters and scenery were very united and effective.

On opening night, there were several children in the audience about the same age as the characters on stage. I wondered how they would react, and was delighted to see that they squealed with laughter and delight - pretty much the same reactions as their parents!

25 years ago, retired theatre professor Dr. William Layne, his wife Sylvia and son J. W. made a proposal to the City of Palm Springs that the Frances S. Stevens school be repurposed as a theatre. It was accepted, and PCT was born. A bit later, the Laynes were joined by their professional actress daughter, Se. The current production was directed by Dr. Layne, stars son J. W., was choreographed by daughter Se, and mom Sylvia kept an overview that all ran smoothly, filling in as necessary. More importantly, the Layne family has created a theatre family, all of whom are delighted to see PCT in production again. This special summer performance of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown is an excellent opportunity for theatre family and friends to get together inside the auditorium with live actors, musicians, singing and dancing. We've certainly waited long enough for the opportunity!

The 25th season begins in September and includes The Guys, Sordid Lives, Shrek the Musical, This Side of Crazy (by Del Shores), The Sound of Music, Les Miserables, Palm Springs Getaway (world premiere), Cyrano de Bergerac, Spamalot, Into the Woods, and Godspell. Season tickets go on sale July 15. More information about the season or tickets for Charlie Brown is at www.palmcanyontheatre.net.

Photo by Paul Hayashi


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