CEDAR CITY — Charles Schulz’s Peanuts comics are some of the most beloved of all time. You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brownis a musical tribute to the classic story. Like many adaptations, Clark Gesner‘s musical struggles to live up to the source material. While the show boasts some fun numbers, the Neil Simon Festival’s latest production struggles to find cohesion in the episodic script.
The show began with the tedious premise that the actors in the show never made it to curtain, so the audience sat for a solid 3 minutes while the music director invited “random” audience members up on stage to fill in. It was a premise that could have had legs, but director Richard Bugg did nothing to explore it. As soon as the actors hit the stage, they were in costume and in character. I would have liked to see the premise develop – let the actors come on stage in street clothes, and slowly change into wardrobe. Start out with script in hand, and have them take some time to learn their characters. What could have been a strong directorial choice instead made the opening extremely tedious, particularly because the characters came on stage and then sat through the entire overture. Afterwards, the show moves right into the title song, a number which felt under-rehearsed with numerous bobbled rhythms and rough diction. A show should start strong, and 5 minutes in I was already checking my watch.
From that point, the show struggled to find the energy to power through. The venue was a big a part of the problem. The Heritage Theater is a beautiful venue, but overpowering for such a small show. The sound echoed, and the lighting (designed by John A. Mitchell) felt insufficient. Many scenes were played with heavy shadows on the actor’s faces. Jason Sullivan’s set design is colorful and appropriately comic book themed, but is too minimal to fill up such a large space. In smaller venue, the set would have been more than adequate, but at the Heritage, it might have helped to use the set to cut down on the playable space and force the actors to be closer to the audience.
The evening was not without highlights. Emilie Moulton turns in a nice performance as Sally Brown with a sunny disposition and child-like demeanour that made her easy to love. Emilie Moulton imbued her character with a sense of purpose. The monologue where Sally pleads with the teacher for a better grade on her coat hanger sculpture was one of the better acted scenes of the night. Nathaniel Tenebaum (as Snoopy) had excellent vocals and strong sense of comic timing that made songs like “Suppertime” and “The Red Baron” stand out. Both Emilie Moulton and Tenebaum were able to create defined characters with motivations and a distinct presence.
The remaining cast was less successful in defining their characters. Clarence Gilyard’s portrayal of Schroeder is adequate, but so unspecific that it was difficult to understand the character is supposed to do. Without a previous understanding of the comics, I would have struggled to know much about the character besides the fact he doesn’t talk much. Redge Palmer, who plays Charlie Brown, had a nice singing voice, but failed to make his character unique or human. Barb Christensen was completely miscast as Lucy, playing bratty mannerisms rather than a character with purpose. A cartoon character is one thing, and the style of the show certainly calls for expressive acting, but Christensen’s winky eye and hair tossing mannerisms were so cliché that it was difficult to connect with the character at all. Finally, as Linus, Grayson Moulton is likeable, but unremarkable as Linus. Without the endearing quirks of the comic book character this production’s Linus felt as generic as Schroeder and Charlie Brown were.
Ultimately, You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown is a work of community theater, with all the shortcomings that can accompany a low budget production. With tickets up to $26, readers would be better off checking out one of the Neil Simon Festival’s straight plays—such as Laughter on the 23rd Floor—or a more value-priced community theater production.