From the moment the dress and T-shirt clad cast members first took the stage, proudly toting large cue-cards bearing instructions for emergency behavior, all with the fitting soundtrack of a howling, indecipherable adult voice, the specter of Charles M. Schultz entered the building.
While Schultz may have only lived long enough to see the Broadway premiere of the classic comic’s musical adaptation, his whimsical spirit was certainly present at the Peppermint Patty cast’s premiere of “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown” by the Heights Players.
Despite an initial, minor sound mishap, the show sailed as smoothly as a “Peanuts” adaptation should.
Yes, it did have its flaws, but this is the whimsical world of Charlie Brown. It doesn’t articulate perfection; it celebrates life, fun and the allure of an ice-cream sundae on a sunny afternoon – not to mention a shiny nickel earned at the expense of a poor and downtrodden kid. Who said psychiatric advice wasn’t worth anything?
More than anything else, it’s a nostalgic call to childhood.
“You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” does not have any tangible plot; instead, it consists of a series of clever shorts, all of which revolve around Charlie (Tom Patterson); his sister, Sally (Alli Loeffert); their friends, Linus (Chad Africa) and Lucy (Laura Mae Baker) Van Pelt; young musical prodigy, Schroeder (Derrick Bryant Marshall) and Charlie’s lovably loyal beagle, Snoopy (Eason Smith).
Presented in a theater-in-the-round style, director Steve Velardi’s take on this now-classic musical does what it’s supposed to: it eases the nerves and entertains. It’s good, wholesome, carefree fun.
Some of the most memorable scenes feature Smith, either as the star or a comic bystander, such as the infectiously impish “Glee Club Rehearsal.” His wildly hysterical impersonation of a Red Baron rival is more than sufficient in awakening anyone who may have fallen prey to fatigue during the intermission. That said, his singing abilities, even when standing in a position that allowed for appropriate breath support, were hardly exemplary. He may have been unable to successfully pull off the demanding vocals of “Suppertime,” but that almost diminishes in light of his zest and merrily dancing feet.
Vocal prowess, however, came steadily with Baker. Loud, expressive and devastatingly good, the mezzo-soprano consistently belted note after perfectly executed note. Her performance of “Schroeder” sung against the haunting melody of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” would have almost been poignant if the lyrics had been less adorable.
Speaking of musical finesse, the production’s musical director and keyboardist, Julianne Merrill, deserves more than a share of admiration. Her swiftly moving fingers made short work of the complicated rhythms and melodies within the youthful ode.
Finally, Patterson was an absolute treasure as the perpetually depressed toddler. Although a tenable tenor in his own right, his strength lies in his mimicry. With facial expressions ranging from utter joy to sweetly somber devastation, his interpretation of this sad little boy does not fail to capture the heart of the viewer.
Although the musical did have its problems, particularly with vocals, it all seemed to come together at the end with the closing ensemble piece, “Happiness.” Perhaps that’s fitting, as the tumultuous trials and sweet summertime silliness of childhood are not in any way perfect, but they do arouse a wistful yearning for what many of us believe is the greatest joy. Thus, the Heights Players may not have in ideal musical; but in the end, it will put a smile on your face.
Photo by Jan VanderPutten