Wonder and Comedy of Childhood Come to Life in
Also see Rosemary's review of Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol
Is it me, or is it true that just as an adult begins to love and cherish his or her childhood, suddenly, they wake up and that innocence is gone and those memories are a blur? Ask anyone if they'd like to repeat their childhood, and they'll probably tell you "No." After all, why would anyone want to go through being picked on by their older sister, lose another baseball game for the team, try to stop sucking his thumb, or even attempt to live without his precious "blankie" for even one second all over again? Reminiscence, though, is good, and that is what the production of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown currently playing at Albuquerque's Adobe Theater is all abouthelping people find and relive their inner child. Fortunately for the audience, there is a capable, believable cast of young actors who, in life years, are still close to their childhoods. This helps them put it all together to make magic as they present the reality of being a child in all its comic glory.
Written by Clark Gesner (with additional music by Andrew Lippa), You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown is a musical blast into pop culture of bygone days when people frequently said "Good grief!" and so did kids, eliciting condescending, but adoring, parental laughs at their attempts to be more grown-up. The fact is, the musical is a series of vignettes (reminding us of some of the scenarios from Charles M. Schulz's Peanuts comic strip and holiday television specials), with no real plot and adult actors doing what they are trained to doplay! And play they do, making us believe that they are, indeed, the young characters we remember: Charlie Brown, Lucy, Schroeder, Sally, Linus and Snoopy. Frieda exists, but we never see or hear her. Adults of a certain age grew up identifying with all of these characters in some form or another. I'm almost positive some of the stereotypes still ring true today: the nonathletic, socially inept nerd; the know-it-all bossy girl who's popular but really knows less than she thinks she does; the nerdy but, because-he's-passionate-about-classical-music, less nerdy and more alluring pianist; the immature yet thoughtful thumb-sucking boy who's trying to break the habit of carrying a security blanket; and the over-analytical, somewhat manic depressive cute girl who jumps on the bandwagon for every fad, which changes daily, or dare I say, moment to moment.
I have to admit that I identify most with Lucy's character, especially at the end of act two, when she tries to write a book report on "Peter Rabbit" and is more concerned about getting the right word count than writing anything the slightest bit insightful. That was me at that age. Everyone will find him or herself in this production, and I mean this very, very, very, very, very, very sincerely.
In terms of set, be prepared for minimal. That's fine considering that the star of this show is the ensemble of actors. Designer Bob Byers' set includes a holiday light matrix backdrop which silhouettes the band. Moveable set pieces, such as an impressive large school bus cutout, a scaled down grand piano that almost touches the floor, a larger than life "Edith Ann" red comfy chair, and, of course a less traditional Snoopy's doghouse which sports a "Snoopy's Casa" sign out front (reminding the audience where this production takes place), create ample environs in which the characters can come to life. The cactus on the side of Snoopy's abode is also a clever and subtle touch. Michael Girlamo's lighting, while effective, leaves some of the actors in partial darkness in some cases. Beverly Herring and Judi Buehler's costumes are spot-on and provide the color needed to remind us that these characters are all supposed to be animated.
Dan Martinez, making his Adobe debut in the title role, has some lovely moments as our favorite blockhead, especially in the show's final number, "Happiness." He is definitely sincere, natural, sweet and empathetic in a way that we have come to expect from Charlie Brown. Martinez really hits his stride in the second act. Amanda Morales, a multi-talented and charming performer, does a good job as Lucy, but lacks the bite that her pen and ink counterpart always possessed. I would have loved to see her go from zero to mean in far fewer seconds and really milk it. She does manage to channel "crabby" momentarily but drifts into more sweetness than angst, more often than not. Her interactions with Schroeder, however, are hilarious, so it's hard not to enjoy her energy. Leonard Hughes is very loveable as Schroeder. He looks the part, he acts the part, and his air piano playing is excellent. Jonathan Gallegos brings his own style to Linus, and he's easy to believe as a child as he leaps about the stage sucking and smelling his thumb and dragging his security blanket behind him. Jon is a true triple threat who always gives audiences more than one-hundred percent. His rendition of "My Blanket and Me" is wonderful.
The glue that binds this production of Charlie Brown is the performance level of Gilbert Sanchez as Snoopy. This uncommon pooch's main goal is to be understood and find "advancement," of which there is very little for a dog. Sanchez is as fine a dancer and singer as he is an actor and he thoroughly entertains the audience with his Red Baron monologue as well as his performance of the hunger-pain inducing "Suppertime." He completely suspends audience disbelief and brings us into his world of canine oppression. He is an actor to watch and I wouldn't be surprised to see him one day on the Broadway boards. In the dictionary next to "ray of sunshine," there is a picture of Christy Burbank. Breaking onto the Albuquerque theatre scene nearly two years ago, this Canadian actress/singer/dancer transplant is as delicious as poutine and has the professionalism of a Broadway performer. As Charlie Brown's little sister Sally, she gives the ensemble numbers the perfect amount of pouty mania and sparkle to make them show stoppers. "My New Philosophy," her solo number, displays Burbank's bubbly personality and thoughtfulness as an actor and is one of the best numbers in the show. Her rabbit-hunting vignette with Snoopy is also a highlight, inducing genuine cackles ... at least I think so. I couldn't hear over mine!
It's the small details in this show that make it enjoyable theatre. Director Daryl Streeter has brought together a troupe of some of Albuquerque's best up-and-coming actors to give Charlie Brown life. As is sometimes the case in community theatre, the transitions between scenes could be a little tighter, and the director might have considered body mikes. The band, especially in the opening number, "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown," and some other group numbers, tends to overpower the actors' voices.
Overall, You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown is a cute production to which parents will feel certain they can bring their kids. The show runs through Sunday, December 19 at the Adobe Theater, located at 9813 Fourth Street in Albuquerque. Tickets are $16 and $14 for students and seniors. For reservations or more information, visit www.adobetheater.org or call the Adobe box office at 505-898-9222.
-- Paul Niemi