With an original debut in 1967, You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown wowed audiences long before it became fashionable to bring successful franchises of any kind onto the stage (Harry Potter: The Musical anyone?) Ever since it’s original production, Charlie Brown has become one of the great classic musicals that have been put up time and time again with numerous revivals, regional productions, and tours under it’s belt. The District now can get a taste of CB, Snoopy, Lucy, and the gang over at H-Street Playhouse where the show opens the second season of the No Rules Theatre Company.
The Peanuts franchise has become an American institution thanks to comic series with over 17,000 strips and a series of television specials that still run every holiday season. In fact any minute now we should be expecting It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown to fill the airwaves on ABC.
With such lofty expectations, You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown pays appropriate homage to the four panel classic and fulfills all the expectations we would come to expect with a stage musical adaptation.
Director Matt Cowart didn’t miss a single ingredient when it comes to cooking up a Peanuts musical. Charlie Brown’s trademark argyle t-shirt? Check. Trombones representing adult dialogue? Check. The classic “Linus & Lucy” theme song? Check. Cowart & Choreographer Pauline Grossman even included some classic dance moves as well. The only thing this production needed was a scene with CB and Lucy trying to kick the football- however you do get to witness Charlie Brown on the mound to disastrous results.
Watching this production was my first visit to the eight year old venue on up and coming H-Street, and the production makes good use of its small space. The seating is only three rows deep, offering every seat a great view of the show. I’ll admit I arrived late to the theatre and had to watch the first number in the lobby- however that gave me a great chance to observe the Music Director/Conductor Taylor Williams and his band at work. The pit for this show is placed in the lobby and are mic’d into the space.
The cast is a small ensemble of Peanuts characters (Charlie Brown, Linus, Sally, Schroeder, Lucy, and Snoopy) and each actor plays up their known characters to a T. Charlie Brown (Augie Praley) is awkward, anxious, and made me realize that CB could be put into any high school comedy film. His attempts to fit in and win the affections of the mysterious Red Headed Girl is a Michael Cera role in the making. Lucy (Carolyn Cole) steals the show with an ego and personality that appears too big to fit within the small theatre. Every moment she was on stage she brought the fireworks that we’ve come to expect with Lucy’s outbursts. Competing with Lucy for honor of top performer is Snoopy (Chris French), who’s role as CB’s best friend/beagle broke out in the second act with his “Suppertime” number.
Linus (Joshua Morgan) has a more intellectual air about him despite being Lucy’s younger brother. Even though Morgan is sporting a frizzy/afro hairdo, he has a resemblance to Christopher Walken and when combined with a Jersey accent, that sometimes came out during the show, turned some lines into a SNL sketch.
Even though the production is a musical classic, I walked into this production without having ever seen it and was left wanting more of a plot to make my night complete. I know even the best musicals have terrible plots and premises, but as a viewer of the television specials this production is more like the original comic strip: short, pointed, entertaining vignettes. Never the less I was thoroughly entertained with a well executed performance that highlights the cuteness and light-hearted humor of the comics.
From set to costumes, You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown hits all notes to be a suitable tribute to any fan of the Peanuts franchise. Like the comics, it will leave you with a smile.