YOU’RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN
Based on the comic strip “Peanuts” by Charles M. Schulz
Book, Music and Lyrics by Clark Gesner, Additional Dialogue by Michael Mayer
Additional Music by Andrew Lippa, Original Direction by Michael Mayer
Plaza Theatre Company
Director – Dennis Yslas Trainor
Musical Director—Cheri Dee Mega
Scenic Designer –JaceSon P. Barrus
Lighting Designer—G. Aaron Siler
Sound Designer – G. Aaron Siler
Costume Designer – Stormy L. Witter
Charlie Brown—Joshua Sherman
Reviewed Performance 8/6/2016
Reviewed by Genevieve Croft , Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Based on the popular daily and Sunday comic strip, “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown” takes audiences on a journey with the beloved Peanuts’ characters, notable for being ageless 5-6 year olds, but with the wit, humor and dialogue of adults. Charlie Brown and his company of friends have been deeply rooted in American culture-with annual holiday television specials, which have become a part of holiday tradition, appearing in advertising -Snoopy appears as a “spokes dog” for Met Life Insurance, and even a modernized re-telling of the gang in the 2015 film, “The Peanuts Movie.” The original “Peanuts” comic strip may have ended in the year 2000 with the retirement and illness of creator Charles M. Schulz, but it is certain that good ol’ Charlie Brown will continue to entertain and delight audiences for many years to come. No matter what the medium, Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy and the gang are here to stay, and will continue to entertain and delight audiences of all ages.
Told with very little consistent plot, “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown” is told in a style of vignettes that are strung together, with themes and ideas that are introduced in the illustrated comic strip. Having only seen this musical one time prior to this performance, I had high expectations for the production. To me, the characters and storylines are so deeply rooted in the American psyche, that (as an audience member), I wish for the characters in this production to be portrayed with great care and attention. That being said, it was exactly what I was expecting. I enjoyed seeing the scene-by-scene vignettes unfold on stage, with the appropriate amount of humor, music, and timing. It very much reminded me of my early experiences of reading the daily, as well as the Sunday editions of Peanuts’ and their recurring storylines. It provided a nice bit of nostalgia for me, and also allowed me to share some of this nostalgia with my six-year old son, Paul, who is being introduced to the Peanuts characters and their stories-just as I was all those years ago as a youngster.
Director Dennis Yslas Trainor brought together an ensemble cast who were synced and worked well together. The cast who collaborated with a design crew that intricately knit together scenery, sound and costumes, enhanced the story being told by these familiar characters. Mr. Trainor wonderfully delivers in the role of director. It is apparent that Mr. Trainor took great care when directing “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown” for the intimate black box theatre space at Plaza Theatre Company. Each one of these loveable characters was exactly what I would expect to see if these cartoon characters came to life, and where embodied by human actors on stage. The characters were portrayed with such naturalism, and contained quite a bit of the child-like innocence and whimsy conveyed in the original comic strip. Often times, I feel that when real-life actors portray the characters that have been engrained in our culture, the temptation to play them as over-exaggerated “caricatures” ruins what we remember and how we feel about them. With all honesty, I can say that Mr. Trainor’s concept and vision of this production certainly delivers. I especially enjoyed seeing some lovely stage pictures and tableaus which were very reminiscent of seeing panel by panel drawings of the original comic strip.
Scenic Designer and multiple COLUMN Award winner JaceSon P. Barrus created many surprises that came along with his set and overall design. The attention to detail the original comic strip was incredible. From the three-dimensional red Snoopy doghouse, to the larger than life mailbox, and even the suggestion of an illustrated panel comic strip painted on the stage floor-the scenic design was very much inspired by Schulz’s original illustrations. I was also quite impressed with seeing Charlie Brown successfully fly a kite (if only for a short amount of time). As someone who has worked in many different sizes of theaters, I know how difficult it can be to work in a small space. Mr. Barrus took the intimacy of the black box theatre space, and took audiences straight into the world of the Peanuts characters. It was delightful to be very “up close and personal” with his scenic designs. I was taken right into the world of Charlie Brown, Lucy, and Snoopy.
G. Aaron Siler (another multiple COLUM Award winner) served as Sound Designer. I cannot tell you how pleasurable it was to enter the performance space, and be greeted by the sounds of the Vince Guaraldi Trio. Guaraldi was responsible for composing music for seventeen of the Peanuts’ television and one full-length feature film before his death in 1976. I very much enjoyed hearing the album, “A Boy Named Charlie Brown” with the quintessential underscoring music of “Linus and Lucy,” and “Pebble Beach”-two of my favorite songs from this album. I have always felt that the selected music for a production really helps to transport the audience into the world of the play. As an audiophile, I was very satisfied with the selection of music, and homage to the Vince Guaraldi Trio, selected by Mr. Siler. It really helped to solidify the allusion of the entire experience at the theater.
Costumes were designed by Stormy L. Witter. Ms. Witter designed costumes that also worked well with the scenic design. The costumes were very appropriate to the story, and were also very reminiscent to the comic strip. Witter did a phenomenal job of collaborating with the other areas of design, and created a visually pleasing, and accurate depiction of the Peanuts’ characters. From Charlie Brown’s yellow and black zigzag polo, to Lucy Van Pelt’s starchy blue dress with a large bow, all the costumes were spot on to what I would expect to see if each character had been personified. It must be a difficult task to reproduce costumes or apparel of previously established characters-while adding a touch of uniqueness, and a sense of originality. Ms. Witter was successful in both of these aspects, and absolutely delivers in the role of costume designer.
Joshua Sherman was incredible in the role of Charlie Brown. Through facial expressions, mannerisms and overall delivery, Sherman convincingly portrayed “good ol’ Charlie Brown.” It was lovely to see Mr. Sherman personify Charlie Brown with such honesty. Mr. Sherman had some nice moments on stage alone (his ‘Lunch’ monologue was a standout moment for his dual portrayal of humorous and sad). He also had some very nice chemistry with the rest of the ensemble. He was the epitome of what I would expect from an actor portraying Charlie Brown. (It was quite the contrast from his recent and impressive role of Don Lockwood in “Singin’ in the Rain,” that I reviewed at Granbury Theatre Company in July.) Not only does Mr. Sherman have a wide range of abilities on stage, but he also served in the creative capacity of choreographer for this production. I am impressed with his “triple threat” talents. Bravo, Mr. Sherman.
Another standout performance was Emily Warwick, in the role of the loveable, but, bossy know-it-all, Lucy Van Pelt. Lucy is probably one of my favorite Peanuts’ characters. Growing up through the years, I always remember getting a laugh out of Lucy’s antics and adventures in the comic strip. She was always the one who seemed the most adult to me, and Emily Warwick provides a spot on performance as Lucy. She nails facial expressions, line delivery, and belts out number after number in the truest “Lucy” fashion. Her naturalism on stage was very pleasant and enjoyable to watch.
“You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown” is definitely worth seeing. It is apparent to me that a lot of time, care, and love went into staging this production at Plaza Theatre Company. I highly recommend seeing this production-not only will it leave you nostalgic for more of ‘good ol’ Charlie Brown,’ but, you will also have an experience that will be appropriate for all audiences-and these days, there seem to be fewer and fewer occasions for all ages to enjoy. If seeing the recent motion picture homage to the Peanuts’ characters brought back fond memories of your childhood, I guarantee, “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown” will also bring a pleasant reminiscence. I think you will be pleasantly surprised how similar the two actually are-which proves to me that at some point, storytelling comes full circle. “Happiness is….” seeing “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown” at Plaza Theatre Company in Cleburne.
YOU’RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN
Plaza Theatre Company, Cleburne, Texas 76033
Plays through September 3.
Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm, Saturdays at 3:00 pm. Ticket prices are as follows: Adults: $15/ Seniors (65+): $14/ Students (HS and College): $14 Children (12 and under): $13. For more information, or to purchase tickets visit: http://www.plaza-theatre.com
or call the box office at 817-202-0600.