Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
The University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) celebrates the 20th Anniversary of their summer theater program Hot Summer Nights with three traditional musicals, including the revamped Broadway revival version of You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown. Based on the classic comic strip "Peanuts" by the late Charles Schulz, this show follows a day in the life of the down-on-his-luck child Charlie Brown, his dog Snoopy, and their friends, Lucy, Sally, Linus, and Schroeder.
The original book, music and lyrics are by Clark Gesner. However, for the 1999 Broadway revival, two new songs were written by Andrew Lippa (composer/lyricist of the off-Broadway Wild Party) and director Michael Mayer supplied additional dialogue. The original score, though simple, is fun, pleasant, and faithful to the "Peanuts" world, effectively capturing the childlike language and sound, while also bringing the universal understanding of relationships to fruition. The more modern sounding new songs by Mr. Lippa bring a welcome variety to the score and, along with some updated arrangements, help to keep the show from sounding musically dated. The title number, "Happiness", and "My New Philosophy" are the strongest numbers. You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown is neither a traditional book show, nor a revue, but rather a collection of scenes that could be from any day in these characters' lives. As presented, these short vignettes develop (for the audience) the characters as the show progresses, but there is really no advancement of story. For this reason, the book seems to be a great deal underwritten and thin.
The cast of young college students is energetic and entertaining to watch. As the title character, Beau R. Clark sings beautifully and captures Charlie Brown's self-doubting attitude perfectly. Neal Shrader and Blake Ginther, as Linus and Schroeder respectively, each turn in fine performances as characters that display wisdom past that of the average kid their age. As Lucy, Lisa Marie Morabito (one of a number of Wright State University students participating in CCM's Hot Summer Nights) should be careful to use clearer diction at times, but sings and acts the role well. Jacquelyn Vanderbeck's Sally is very funny and in motion non-stop. She is able to effectively play the role written for Kristin Chenoweth for the recent revival without copying her squeaky voice and mannerisms. As Charlie Brown's loyal companion, Will Ray mixes the dog and human characteristics of Snoopy appropriately and sells his big number, "Suppertime," with gusto. However, either Mr. Ray needs to project better or the sound level on his microphone was not adjusted adequately. All of the performers dance and move well.
Direction and choreography are shared by Richard Hess and Greg Hellems and are fluid, quick-paced, and, at times, visually creative. The four-piece band is led effectively by Musical Director Chris Fenwick. The designers at CCM have done an excellent job with You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown. The set and props by Mark Halpin are colorful, fun, and pay necessary tribute to the comic strip. Rebecca Senske's costumes are likewise reminiscent of "Peanuts", attractive, and useful. Although the lighting by James Gage is sometimes repetitive, it is bright, inventive, and a fine complement to the other designs. Sound Designer Chuck Hatcher creates a nice balance between the band and singers, but as stated before, some microphone volume levels on individuals may need raised.
CCM's Hot Summer Nights has chosen three safe traditional musicals for this, their 20th season. In addition to this show, Hello Dolly and Once Upon A Mattress are being presented. You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown has a lightweight book, but is fun, melodic, and performed well, despite of a few minor quibbles, by this young cast and is designed superbly. The musical continues through August 17th. For tickets, call (513) 556-4183.
-- Scott Cain