It’s a good musical, Charlie BrownBy Bob Curtright
Crown Uptown’s colorful, playful and insightful new version of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” proves that you never are too young to understand the wit and wisdom of those pint-sized philosophers from Charles M. Schulz’s “Peanuts” — or too old to still feel the wonder of discovery.
The musical, which combines pleasant — if not exactly show-stopping — music by Clark Gesner with some familiar and beloved moments straight from the comic strip, was created in 1967 and revised in 1999. But it’s a timeless piece that’s measured in universal childhood experiences rather than historical eras. It withstands fads, fancies and the constant barrage of the Next New Thing to be eternally fresh.
And, more importantly, it’s eternally fun. It’s a smile-fest for all ages with a snicker here and a guffaw there to boot.
The six fresh-faced cast members assembled by Crown artistic director Matthew Rumsey are young adults, of course, but they manage to capture the essence of six-year-olds while imbuing them with strong singing voices that occasionally (and thankfully) get to elevate the songs into something notable, even thrilling.
All six get individual showcase moments to prove their mettle, but they also come together in a couple of production numbers (“The Book Report,” “The Glee Club Rehearsal”) that give flashes of gospel and operetta — plus a highlight Rockettes-like kick line. This is that rare ensemble where, despite being equals, everyone also is a stand-out.
Vincent Pelligrino is a sweet and sympathetic Charlie Brown, a hapless romantic yearning to get his act together — just as soon as he figures out what it is. Pelligrino wisely doesn’t play Charlie as a comic klutz or a woeful loser, but as a naive, somewhat tentative optimist. He’s put-upon, but he perseveres steadily and sturdily.
Lauren French plays Lucy, a take-charge, take-no-prisoners loudmouth who declares that she wants to be “elected” queen because she knows what’s best for everyone. But French, who really can crank up a foghorn voice, also plays Lucy with a secret soft side that makes her ultimately appealing if not exactly adorable.
Playing Linus, Lucy’s genius kid brother who understands everything except why he can’t abandon his blankie, is Ryan Naimy. He beautifully uses calm, measured grace to portray an Einstein brain lodged in a childishly uncoordinated body with a mind of its own.
Allison Nock, using a Baby Jane voice that’s both cute and grating, is Sally Brown, Charlie’s kid sister who stalks around the stage with purpose, refusing to go to school because she did that last year, thank you. She’s younger than the rest, but she’s more sure of herself.
Joseph Boover is piano-playing Beethoven fanatic Schroeder, who dramatically pounds out music while oblivious to love-struck Lucy’s flirty posturing all over his toy piano. He only takes notice, albeit with horror, when she wishes him real (i.e., commercial) success as a cocktail pianist.
And Regan McLellan is Charlie’s faithful but independent-minded beagle, Snoopy, who fancies himself more of a kid than a dog. He has a vivid imagination that takes him from playing at being a fierce jungle critter “with tingly teeth” needing to bite someone before the day is over to a World War I flying ace dog-fighting with the notorious Red Baron. McClellan, without dog ears or tail but with a black grease-paint nose, becomes a very credible Snoopy through his very limber body language by crouching, bounding and letting Charlie and the others scruff his hair and tickle his tummy with appropriate leg-jerk reactions.
The show has a rainbow-color look from set designer Gregory R. Crane who very effectively used simple, flat cartoon designs straight out of the comic strip — from Snoopy’s dog house to Lucy’s “The Doctor Is In” psychiatrist’s booth. The only problem was one wall with wheels that made a little too much noise when moved in and out.
Enhancing the look were wonderfully cartoony costumes by Emily Valley that mimicked the signature fashions of the cartoon, from Charlie’s yellow sweater with black zigzag stripe to Lucy’s and Sally’s strangely hooped skirts. Darian Leatherman’s wigs added the crowning touch — quite literally — to the characters’ looks.
Music director Jesse Warkentin, at the keyboards himself, particularly for Schroeder’s flights of classical fancy, kept good pacing with a five-member combo that included Jason Whitmore on reeds, Alexa Chau on violin/viola, Andy Bowers on bass and John Parker on percussion.
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