Ally Shore’s production of “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown” is one of those shows that works for everyone and ought to see be seen as soon as possible (either for the first time or once again). It’s a family-friendly musical (written by Clark Gesner and Andrew Lipps), faithfully based on the comic strip by Charles M. Schultz, about the title character’s humorous attempts to fit in with the other children around him. Most importantly, it’s as every bit as enchanting and uproarious for adults as it is for children.
Presented in an episodic fashion, with brisk comical vignettes and zippy musical numbers, we meet the awkward Charlie Brown (played by Kiegan Otterson), whose social life is a series of failed attempts to play with the kids at his school. His best friends are Linus (played by Logan Heller), who has an intense attachment to his blanket, and his dog Snoopy (played by Dale Button), who is seemingly more confidant and self aware than anyone else. Charlie Brown’s sister, Sally (played by Kathryn Holtkamp) is deeply infatuated with Linus. Then there’s Linus’ sister, Lucy (played by Lina Krueger) who gleefully terrorizes Charlie Brown on a daily basis. Sitting proudly above the madness is Schroeder (played by John Galvan), whose pomposity and eloquence make both too smart for the room and endearingly square.
If you grew up with these characters, watch “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” every October (and if not, why not?!) and once had a miniscule “Charlie Brown Christmas tree” in your home at least once, then a plot description is especially pointless. The essence of these characters is the real attraction and that is the quality Shore’s production captures and nourishes so well.
There’s six cast members portraying Schultz’s delightful cluster of boisterous, well spoken and slightly- nuts children. The performances are so good (and the actors so well matched with their roles), it’s downright blissful to witness these performers find both recognizable and new aspects of the roles to play. Otterson makes Charlie Brown is very funny and, in a way I’d never considered before, truly odd. It’s not easy to shape a character both pathetic and adorable but Otterson pulls it off. Heller arguably resembles his character the most (I mean this in a complimentary way) and his smart take on Linus taps into the core of what a good friend truly is. Button is a marvel as Snoopy, showing us his how his loyalty towards Charlie Brown is sometimes compromised by his fiendish canine tendencies; witnessing Button’s Snoopy resist the urge to bite someone irritating him is much funnier than it reads.
Holtkamp is the perfect Lucy, exhibiting an explosive temper that shakes every follicle of her perky hairdo. I had an especially hard time reminding myself that Holtkamp is a grown actress (and a great one at that) and not actually a child infatuated with a weird kid who is always seen clutching a blanket. Galvan is hysterical as Schroeder, making me see for the first time how this kid’s unwillingness to compromise is downright heroic. Then there’s Krueger’s Lucy Van Pelt, an amazing performance overflowing with rich comic moments and inspired choices. Like her co-stars, Krueger seems to shrink onstage, capture the perfect cadence for her dialog and simply become this unpredictable wild child.
Shore clearly inspired and encouraged wonderful things in her actors and stages the action with finese. There are on stage projections of Schultz’s backgrounds, which further transport the audience into his cartoon world. It’s a nice touch, especially in the way the characters and actor’s names are acknowledged during the curtain call. Nevertheless (and this is probably the biggest compliment I can give Shore and her production), the level of acting and what this show accomplishes is so strong, the stage could have been completely bare and the result would have been the same.
If you haven’t grown up with this musical, the songs are catchy, very funny and come and go quickly. The best tunes come in the second act, particularly Holtkamp’s fantastic “My New Philosophy,” Krueger’s funny rendering of “Little Known Facts,” Button’s wonderful, Joe Cool-fueled “Suppertime” and the lovely final number, “Happiness.”
For all the big laughs we get at Charlie Brown’s expense, there is a big, warm heart at this production’s core. When the final line is uttered and a certain block head has his brief moment of uninterrupted joy, I found myself truly moved. Or, to quote the little girl sitting in front of me during the Red Baron sequence, “This is my favorite part…Go Snoopy!” Indeed.
You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown plays at the the Pro Arts Playhouse in Akeza Marketplace (next to Taco Bell). The show runs until May 13th. Tickets are available at proartsmaui.com or by calling 808-463-6550.