By Matthew Waterman H-T Reviewer
Hardly any musical starts off with a more searing indictment of a 4-year-old than “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.”
The “Peanuts” gang holds nothing back in their assessment of Charlie Brown. His sister points out his stupidity, clumsiness and lack of confidence. Schroeder enumerates the accomplishments that Charlie has never made: never pitched a winning baseball game, never won a game of checkers, never been able to keep a kite in the air. Lucy adds that Charlie has a “failure face.”
The criticisms are biting, to be sure, but for all his faults, Charlie Brown remains a “good man.” That’s why the no-holds-barred roast of Charlie is immediately followed by the title song, in which he is praised roundly for the substance of his character. The musical depicts young Charlie attempting to live up to his inherent goodness.
“You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” is the final show of the year for Indiana University Summer Theatre (formerly Indiana Festival Theatre). Based on Charles Schulz’s classic comic strip “Peanuts,” the musical is a collection of everyday occurrences for Charlie Brown and his friends, human and nonhuman. Lucy van Pelt, Linus van Pelt, Schroeder, Sally Brown and Snoopy round out the cast of characters here.
The show was adapted for the stage by Clark M. Gesner, who wrote the book, the music and the lyrics. Gesner obviously had a lot of material to select from; “Peanuts” ran from 1950 to 2000. The resulting plot is quite scattered, forming a sort of series of vignettes rather than a unified storyline. The program tells us that what we see is “an average day in the life of Charlie Brown.”
The direction is by Robert Chapel, a professor emeritus of the department of drama at University of Virginia. Chapel leads the cast in a production that is sufficiently but not excessively cartoonish. That is, the actors bring the whimsical comedy of “Peanuts” to life without ignoring the unique requirements of putting it all on stage.
Charlie Brown himself is played by sophomore musical theater student Jake McCutcheon, who captures the innocence of the role. McCutcheon’s temperance makes him a good foil for Courtney Reid Harris as Lucy van Pelt. Harris takes an exaggerated and intense approach to her perpetually crabby and high-strung character. Get on her bad side, and you’ll be stared down like never before.
Matt Rood deftly plays Schroeder, the serious-minded piano prodigy. Rood gives solid vocal performances throughout, most notably in “Beethoven Day.” Genki Hall and Audie Deinlein are well-meaning and authentically childish as Linus and Sally.
Last but not least is Snoopy, played with charm and mastery by Scott Van Wye. Van Wye makes for a sardonic and cynical dog, lightyears ahead of any of the human characters from an intellectual standpoint. Snoopy has a top-notch musical feature in each act; “Snoopy” in the first and “The Red Baron Melodrama” in the second.
Gesner’s memorable score is brought to life by a three-piece band under the direction of Ray Fellman. All the singers shine independently, but the harmonized choral sections in the music are particularly impressive.
“You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” is a simple, family-oriented musical that will entertain kids without totally alienating adults. The “Peanuts” kids, without having aged much at all since their inception nearly seven decades ago, continue to entertain new generations.
If you go
WHO: Indiana University Summer Theatre.
WHAT: “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” by Clark M. Gesner, based on the comic strip by Charles M. Schulz.
WHERE: Wells-Metz Theatre in the Norvelle Center, 275 N. Jordan Ave., Bloomington.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and Aug. 9-13; 2 p.m. Saturday, Sunday and Aug. 13-14.
TICKETS: $15-$25. Call 800-745-3000 or visit theatre.indiana.edu.
Reprinted with permission from The Herald Times. Read this and more about Arts happenings around town at www.heraldtimesonline.com.