Friday, November 03, 2006

Good Grief

You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown is an oddball of a musical. More of a revue, really, a collection of four-panel comic strips put into the mouths of actors, book-ended by music.

I am a huge fan of Charles Schultz’ strip.

When I was a kid, I thought I was Charlie Brown – right down to a crush on a little red-haired girl. And recently, when my wife took me on a surprise trip to the Grand Canyon, I made her stop at Needles, Ca. (Extra credit for the person that knows why…)

So I was glad to relive the old four panels – Charlie not having the courage to talk to the little red-haired girl, Snoopy refusing to chase rabbits, Lucy planning her future life with a musician.

But with no overarching story – only a vague character arc for Charlie – this is a hard musical to pull off. When my wife and I saw a production recently, she leaned over to me half-way through and asked, “How does something like this become a success on Broadway… Twice?”

The answer lies in the imagination of the production, requiring the same outside-the-box thinking that Schultz used to fuel a strip that had a dog flying a sopwith camel, a kid hero-worshipping Joe Shablotnik, and a second baseman able to throw out a runner using the whip action of a security blanket.

Fortunately for my wife and I, the choreographer of the Vox Humana production we saw had such an imagination in spades. The show sparkled every time someone started to dance (the cast was mostly non-dancers – a sign of brilliant choreography that the audience didn’t notice); the best laughs and most heart-felt moments were contained within the movement.

Schultz would have been proud.

In the spirit of full disclosure, the choreographer, Jodi Shilling Little, is a good friend of mine. But then again, if I didn’t like her work, you wouldn’t be hearing about it at all. So there.

As to the rest of the production… It didn’t hold up as well.

The direction was pedestrian – suicide for this kind of piece. And the actors, with some exception (most notably Charlie Brown – played by an actor’s whose name escapes me, and thus forfeiting the shout out he deserves) played adults pretending to be kids – in direct opposition to the spirit of Schultz, who created a world of real kid commenting unfettered on an adult world.

So, the final review of this production? Inspired in parts, flat in others.

As to the original strip, I suppose Snoopy’s (and therefore Schultz’) words will do for me:

“It warms the cookies of my heart.”

Just my thoughts,


For more cookie warming, head to the Peanuts official site.


Linds said...

Extra credit for Needles? Elementary, my dear Watson. Though I didn't find Spike, it is the only place I've ever been where my feet got burned through my shoes. :)

Anonymous said...

Happiness is . . . inspired dancing . . .


Anonymous said...

Hey Sean--Dave Tippett here, the once a year see him at the Lillenas drama conference guy. Was cleaning the home office and found your blog address. This show is near to my heart. I played Linus in a community theater production of it WAY back in the day, circa 1976ish. Was a fun and sweet show, althought the director had me speak in a Richard Nixon kind of voice. Mucho blessings.