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New Jersey by Bob Rendell

Pleasant You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown
in Morristown

Also see Bob's reviews of The Normals and The Last Hurrah

You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown
Ashley Hughson
From the get-go in the early spring of 1967, You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, based on Charles M. Schultz’s beloved Peanuts comic strip, has been the little musical that could. On the March day when the New York reviews appeared, I found myself on a more than two hour line for tickets which snaked through the long narrow lobby of 80 St. Marks out onto St. Marks Place and around the corner onto 1st Avenue. Well, without having to wait on any line, you can now see the expanded and improved (for the 1999 Broadway revival) version.

Although Charlie Brown went on to run for four years, I must admit that when I saw it a couple of weeks after cadging my eagerly purchased tickets, I was somewhat let down. Oh, it was bright and pleasant enough. However, this self described “average day in the life of Charlie Brown” proved a small revue essentially alternating (and sometimes combining) songs and short sketches based on the writing and characters of the Peanuts script. There was no momentum in the story telling to carry events forward, and there was no possibility for characters to grow and change. However, although Charlie Brown struck me as sometimes whimsical, sometimes deflating, small and underwhelming, there could be no question that it was filled with intelligence, wry humor, pleasant music and amusing lyrics.

Seen today, Charlie Brown remains as it was then. However, it is longer and more filling with additional (first rate) music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa to supplement Clark Gesner’s original book, music and lyrics. There is additional dialogue credited to Michael Mayer. This may have something to do with the fact that in the revised version the sweet and innocent Patty has been replaced by the feisty and prickly Sally. With a fresh and talented young adult cast performing this material under the sure handed direction of Eric Hafen, Charlie Brown makes for an easy to take, bright entertainment.

Rusty Reynolds has just the right clean cut, wistful quality as the beleaguered, ever optimistic Charlie Brown. However, it appears that no actor could overcome the repetitive deflation which the audience shares with Charlie as he grapples with his kite (which won’t fly), moons over the unseen pretty redheaded girl, or is too easily April fooled by Lucy.

Gerard Lebeda (Linus) brings a graceful presence to his solo dance (with blanket) and song. Jamal Sawab (Schroeder) does well by the witty “Beethoven’s Day,” a fine addition to the score by Lippa. Julian Brightman is an appropriately daft Snoopy, most effectively so as he contemplates his “Suppertime.”

The distaff side is represented by Stephanie Carr (Lucy) and Ashley Hughson (Sally). Carr takes advantage of the most dimensional role that Gesner has provided. Her putdowns of Charlie seem to be manifestations of her own limitations. Her Lucy is as insecure socially as she is intelligent. This Lucy is definitely “in.” Perhaps best of all is Ashley Hughson. The highlight of the Bickford Charlie Brown is her knockout performance of Andrew Lippa’s “My New Philosophy.” Hughson delivers this bouncy, rhythmic richly humorous song in high theatre style. She sings with a joyful buoyancy and pitch perfect vocal voluptuousness that today’s American Idol style monochromatic belters can only dream of achieving.

Otherwise, the best numbers feature ensemble singing. These include the well known title song and “Happiness Is” which open and close the show, “Glee Club Rehearsal”, and “Little Known Facts.” Eric Hafen, who must be credited for the well chosen cast, has directed brightly, and Laurie Piro’s choreography is bright and lively.

You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown continues performances (Thurs.-Sat. 8 p.m./Sun. 2 p.m.) through December 11, 2005 at the Bickford Theatre at the Morris Museum, 6 Normandy Heights Road, Morristown, NJ 07960. Box office: 973-971-3706; online: www.bickfordtheatre.org/

You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown Book, Music and Lyrics by Clark Gesner (Additional. Dialogue by Michael Mayer; Add’l Music and Lyrics by Andrew Lippa); Directed by Eric Hafen

Cast:
Linus……………..Gerard Lebeda
Charlie Brown….Rusty Reynolds
Sally……………Ashley Hughson
Lucy……………...Stephanie Carr
Schroeder……………Jamal Sawab
Snoopy…..........Julian Brightman


Photo: Warren Westura


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- Bob Rendell



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