You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown
Johnson County Fairgrounds — through Sept. 18
In one of my favorite television shows, a seasoned director is waxing poetic about doing Hamlet when he says, “My reason may very well be hanging by a thread. Well, my friends, it is my belief that the best things happen just before the thread snaps.” As this show’s director Jaret Morlan tells it in his curtain speech, having lost five of his crew shortly before opening, his thread was fraying bare. And it shows, because this small-cast, big-score musical was one of the best things I’ve seen in awhile.
The music for You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown (book, music and lyrics by Clark Gesner, with additional dialogue by Michael Mayer and additional music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa) must have been daunting to learn, to say the least. Musical director Christian Drollinger had his work cut out for him. The course of the show is primarily comprised of songs. Actors are called to belt the beginning of a number with little or no cue from the band — or change key, going from a low belt to a high belt, out of nowhere. And they do a fantastic job, not just hitting the notes, but coloring them with personality and charm. Thanks to Erin Taylor’s clever choreography, they are both everywhere and nowhere exactly when they need to be, either filling out the stage or running past delivering a well-placed, precise interjection.
Jackie Allen’s costuming was picture perfect, highlighting all the details that made me have flashbacks to reading the funnies. Although, I’ll admit, I did wish they’d given Snoopy some ears. The set was equally nostalgic — elegant in its simplicity and full of familiar pieces to play in, on and around. And while, at preview, a few of the set changes were a bit clunky, I think that can be chalked up to an entirely new set crew learning the complex script in a short time — this story is, like the comics, not entirely linear.
I didn’t know what to expect going in: To be honest, I felt like, “Okay, it’s Charlie Brown, so it’ll be like a cartoon on stage,” which it absolutely was. But it’s been a good long while since I met the Peanuts crew, on stage or screen, so I was pleasantly surprised by the sheer, darling mayhem of the whole thing. The best way to describe the plot is a series of vignettes where Charlie Brown discovers what it means to be happy, while wading through some next-level depression, but funny. This, in a nutshell, is what Charlie Brown has always been.
Now, I’ve heard there was some question about casting a girl as this production’s Charlie Brown. In a show where you’ve got grown adults playing five-year-old children, that seems like a telling complaint. But I’d like to address it, both because men have been playing women since the dawn of time and because Rachael Rhoads couldn’t have been cast better. For starters, her face; she does a good Charlie Brown face. Second, her sweet, melancholic voice; she has dynamite range. Her vocals were just a spot quieter than all her cast mates, which makes perfect sense for the character, and she makes the Debbie-Downer character completely lovable, which is really hard to do. Anyone who has any question about the casting should go see it, so that talented Charlie Brown-faced woman can rub her perfection all up in your grill.
Every single character in this play was really well cast. Hannah Green was a hilariously mean-spirited goddess as Lucy. John Shang as Linus had me laughing so hard tears were spilling down my cheeks. Rubina Vidal’s Sally made my jaw drop a few times with some of those insane notes she hit. Schroeder, expertly portrayed by Will Callan, was pompous, impetuous and wonderful. And finally, Yannick Encarnação was lovable and cool as the beloved mascot of the gang, yearning for just one person to bite.
Each in their part was absolutely wonderful, but together they soared. I can name numerous songs I loved, and I’ve never seen this show before. Linus’ dance with his blanket might be the best thing that’s ever happened to me (shout out to the blanket girl, Claire Green). Lucy’s therapy session was funny and impressive — but I won’t ruin how. The hunting rabbits/book report sequence went from cute, to funny, to poignant, to worrisome, to totally relatable in a span of minutes.
This production was not perfect. Sometimes an actor would turn away and, since the cast wasn’t wearing microphones, I missed things. Some set changes were a little slow or could have been masked better; but on the whole this show was Great, with a capital G. I’m going back: I never go back, but I’m going back. Get your tickets now, because I’m not the only one who will.
You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown runs one more weekend, with performances at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 16 and Saturday, Sept. 17, and 2 p.m. performances on Saturday and on Sunday, Sept. 18. Tickets are $11-19.