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A CurtainUp Review
You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown
By Elyse Sommer
My companion at You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown was 5 1/2 year-old Jack Sommer. His unreserved enthusiasm for all six members of the Peanuts gang and his open-mouthed wonder at each scene shift gave a giant boost to my own enjoyment.
The few easy-to-eat-and-quiet-to-unwrap snacks I'd packed with my notebook for fidgety moments proved totally unnecessary. While some of the humor that had the adult audience laughing went over his head, it didn't keep him from declaring at the end: "I liked this show so much that I want to see it again." (At $75 a pop for orchestra seats, even the most doting parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents aren't likely to indulge such wishes -- but not to worry, there's a CD from the show slated for release in about a month will have to suffice).
To my question at intermission about a favorite character, Jack unhesitatingly declared "I liked them all." That included crabby, buttinsky Lucy who, asked the same question would undoubtedly have said "me!" Still, the idea of a play date with Sally a.k.a. Kristin Chenoweth seemed especially appealing. Small wonder! Chenoweth, with Little Orphan Annie curls and the voice of a pint-sized Miss Adelaide is surely one of the most irresistible moppets to dance onto a Broadway stage in a long while. While Sally is the most 100% kid character of the sextet, there were no questions about grown-up actors playing any of these little folks (the name Charles M. Schulz used for his comic strip before it became immortalized as "Peanuts"). What about the Snoopy a.k.a. Roger Bart? Without dog mask or costume, Jack bought Snoopy's dogginess lick, bark and bone. In fact, he thought it would be great fun to have his favorite miniature Schnauzer, Busby meet this beagle.
So do you have to be a child or have a child in tow to enjoy director Michael Mayer's re-staged, re-written reprise of the 1967 Off-Broadway hit? Since its book is as weighty as those mini-books about love and friendship found in bookstore gift departments, does this music-animated cartoon really deliver the big bang of a Broadway show?
If you're going to start comparing it to The Lion King, good grief, no . But if you appreciate a musical that isn't excessively miked, and overly glitzy, you could do a lot worse than spend two hours with The Browns -- Charlie, Lucy and Sally -- and Linus, Schroeder and Snoopy.
With the capable Mr. Mayer at the helm the re-staging and rewriting is extensive without extinguishing the original revue's win-your-heart intimacy. Topping the list of assets Mayer has brought to the show is the transformation of the original's Patty (a composite of all the girls except Lucy) into Charlie's scrappy kid sister Sally and the inspired casting of Kristin Chenoweth. Mayer's other casting choices are also good, especially Roger Bart as Snoopy and B. D. "M. Butterfly" Wong as Linus. While Anthony Rapp was out sick on the night we went to the Ambassador, Doan Mackenzie proved himself a most satisfactory standby. (As noted in our 2/07 etcetera column, this season's devilishly insidious strain of flu has forced even some of the gamest show-must-go-on actors to bed. Thus, good understudies are more crucial than ever. Fortunately, You're A Good Man boasts three standbys with each prepared to play multiple roles.).
Andrew Lippa's additions to existing songs as well as two new musical standouts, "My New Philosophy" and "Beethoven Day" add to the what-a-good-idea revisions. Also not to be overlooked are the behind the scenes stars of this production: David Gallo, Michael Krass and Kenneth Posner. Gallo once again proves his knack for witty and apt cutout sets. A yellow bus and a big chartreuse couch which effectively cuts the actors down to the size of their characters are just some of the magic marker colored props wheeled on and off the stage. Oh, yes, there's also Snoopy doghouse which the insouciant beagle at one point pilots to a delightful ride in the sky. (see picture at top) Everything is splendidly lit by Kenneth Posner and Michael Krass's just-so costumes underscore the set's bright palette.
The colorful staging was by no means lost on my junior co-critic. He seemed particularly enthralled when Snoopy's Act 2 dog dance seagued into an Al Jolson "Mammy" number with the proscenium suddenly a flashing marquee -- the evening's most Broadway-like number.
Unlike Jack, I can't say that I liked everything about You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown or that I'd be inclined to see it a second time. I wasn't completely sold on the kid's persona of Lucy (a somewhat disconcerting Lily Tomlin look-alike) and Schroeder and there were a few sketches that made me wish the next and better one would hurry up and begin. On the whole, the show's charm and bounce made these minor quibbles.