KPBS AIRDATE: AUGUST 25, 2000
SONG: “You’re a Good Man…”
Meet Charlie Brown — adult office-worker, beleaguered paper-pusher — worrying over every little detail and never really accomplishing anything.
That’s the new opening of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” the 1967 Clark Gesner musical whose recent revision wowed Broadway audiences last year. The updates and additions are not always felicitous. What once was a sweet, nostalgic comic strip memory now tries to develop an edge — and an edge doesn’t belong on a rose-tinged reverie. But Lamb’s Players Theatre brings us back to the warm fuzzies by invoking the late, great Charles Schulz, who died recently, making this Southern California premiere a valentine to the “Peanuts” creator and the strip’s 50-year anniversary. Like the cartoon, the show has begun to seem dated — still pleasantly familiar, but in our much more frenzied and complex world, a lot less relevant.
But these are characters we know and have grown up on, and the Lamb’s cast brings them to vibrant life so we can fall in love with them all over again. In the last update I saw, about 10 years ago, many of the ancillary characters were unnecessarily added: Peppermint Patty, Pigpen and others. But this version wisely sticks to the core playpals: the hapless Charlie Brown, optimistic worry-wart and king of ‘What If,’ who, in the sad-sack face of Michael McCafferty, is a pathetic prince of tragic proportion, the embodiment of all our childhood fears and dashed hopes. And there’s the philosophical thumb-sucker and blanket-hugger, Linus, adorably played by Jeffrey Miller, and the Beethoven-obsessed Schroeder, a burly Isaac Riddle in a ridiculous wig; and quizzically confused Sally, Kerry Meads’ best, most focused work in years. We can’t forget the beloved Snoopy, whom Derek Travis Collard enlivens in the second act with his hunt for the Red Baron and paean to Suppertime. But Mary Miller fairly steals the show as the bossy, crabby Lucy, who can turn on a dime into a piano-draped femme fatale in the presence of her oblivious heartthrob, Schroeder. The singing, especially in the group numbers, is outstanding, especially the first act closer, that is still so dead-on it revives long-forgotten nightmares.
SONG: “The Book Report”
Director Deborah Gilmour Smyth keeps the pace up in this choppy, episodic piece, which fits neatly into Mike Buckley’s ‘Hollywood Squares’ set, a bank of bordered areas that frame the scenelets like comic strip panels. Jeanne Reith’s costumes are adorable without being precious, and though the evening gets off to a sluggish start, these childhood friends that we know so well, that we will miss so much, can’t help but win us over and tug at our adult-hardened hearts.
SONG (under and out): “Happiness”
©2000 Patté Productions Inc.