Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
Also see Patrick's review of Bus Stop and Richard's review of Christopher Nelson: Quiet Please, There's a Lady on Stage
Occasionally, comic strips even get the Broadway treatment, most notably with Annie, which won seven Tony Awards (including Best Musical), ran for six years on Broadway, and has experienced a long life in revivals and touring shows. You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown got off to a good start in an Off-Broadway production (featuring Gary Burghoff as Charlie Brown and Bob Balaban as Linus) that ran for almost four years, finally closing in 1971. The Broadway revival in 1999despite a terrific cast that included Kristin Chenoweth, Anthony Rapp, and Roger Bart (and garnering Tonys for Chenoweth and Bart)lasted only a few months. But the show has a had a long life in regional, amateur and school productions, thanks in part to the well-known and well-loved characters, simple staging requirements, and the charm of its simple songs.
So it's not surprising the show has popped up at the James Dunn Theatre at College of Marin, directed by none other than James Dunn himself.
... Charlie Brown is at its best when it hews closest to the spirit of the original material. That is, when it's most like a comic strip. When Izaak Heath as Charlie Brown rests on his elbow, fist to his ear in an attitude of disillusionment and world-weariness, it's a pose instantly recognizable to readers of Charles Schulz's original strips. Likewise, when the kids dance, it mirrors the jerky movements the characters display in the animated TV specials. Of all the performers, Dana Cherry, playing Lucy, does the best job of embodying the cartoon nature of the characters. Bella Cvengros also deserves credit for bringing bounteous Chenoweth-like pixie energy to the role of Sally Brown.
Unfortunately, this production runs up against two key challenges. First, the show itself, while charming and nostalgic, is a little creaky. It was never really a show, as such; imagined initially as a concept album. (The show has that aspect in common with Hamilton, which was also initially envisioned as a concept album.) It's more of a revue, with very loosely linked sketches. The only real throughline here is whether Charlie Brown will ever work up the courage to speak with the Little Red-Haired Girl. (Spoiler alert: it will happen the day Lucy lets Charlie actually kick the football.) The second challenge is the cast. Though there are a few voices that hold promise (especially Dana Cherry and Bella Cvengros), many of the rest struggle to maintain pitch, are a little loose with the harmonies, and need better breath control to support their notes, especially when dancing. What's more, although they all seem to be in their late teens to early 20s, they haven't managed to tap into either the emotional vulnerability of pre-teens or their loose-limbed physicality, which undercuts much of the charm of seeing adults playing children.
If you have pre-teen kids who love Peanutsin any of its formstake them to see this. The sweet message of self-acceptance and finding happiness in everyday things is still there, the songs are still bouncy and fun, and your kids will likely be able to enjoy the overall energy of the cast and charm of the show.
You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown runs through March 19, 2017, in the James Dunn Theatre in the Performing Arts Building on the College of Marin campus, 835 College Avenue in Kentfield. Shows are March 10, 11, 17, and 18 at 7:30 p.m., and March 11, 12 and 19 at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $25 general admission, $20 seniors and $15 for College of Marin students, alumni, and employees. For more information, visit pa.marin.edu.