HIGHLAND — A mainstay of the comics pages since 1950, Peanuts are part of the cultural fabric of the United States. For a few days their fans in Utah County can see these beloved characters on stage in Highland City Arts Council’s You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.
Unfortunately, the biggest problem with the production is the fact that it is You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown. The script (written by Clark Gesner, with additional dialogue by Michael Mayer) is a meandering concept musical that limps from one song to another. Anyone with the slightest knowledge of Peanuts will not learn anything new about the characters. Instead, the characters parade around the stage for two hours without ever doing or learning anything substantial. They come off as museum pieces, encased in dramatic lucite, preserved in mint condition with all of the exact same quirks and traits that they have in every medium they appear in. After a while I found myself asking why anyone would even bother seeing this show; it offers nothing unique or memorable to the Peanuts canon.
Despite the flaws in the show, director Kelly Cook has created a tight, cute show. Under her careful direction, the space constraints of the Highland City Community Center melt away, and the result was an intimate show that clips along well. Cook’s staging was full of variety, and the buildup to the punchlines of the comedic vignettes in the script were effective. Melissa Brown’s choreography was also an asset to the production because of its trademark simplicity, which was a good match for the show and the space. I also enjoyed how Brown (in “Beethoven Day,” the title song, and “My Blanket and Me”) slipped in dancing that resembled the idiosyncratic dance moves that the characters have in the animated TV specials.
The unfortunate actors in this cast all had greater talents than the material allowed them to display, and most struggled to breathe any sort of depth in their characters. The most successful was Hayley Warner as Snoopy. Her inquisitive look as she listened to the humans and her detached demeanor made Snoopy’s observer status clear. In the title role, Kyle Harper conveyed Charlie Brown’s nervous anxiety, and his despondent look in the lunchroom scene or the glee club rehearsal was charming.
On the other hand, despite their best efforts, Linus (played by Rebecca Lambert), Sally (McKenna Blair), and Lucy (Emilyn Gil) were often completely interchangeable (such as in the rabbit hunt). I don’t blame the actors for this; they are playing cartoon characters—not actual people. It is difficult to play a (literally and figuratively) two-dimensional character for an entire evening. But perhaps another reason why they seemed so interchangeable was that Linus was played by a female actor, which was frequently distracting.
Under the supervision of music director Julie Pierce, the cast thoroughly mastered Gesner’s score (which has additional music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa). Warner’s “Suppertime” was bluesy and enjoyable. “Little Known Facts” was also a musical highlight, and Pierce ensured that Gil had a crisp delivery that ensured that the humor of the lyrics shined through. The only musical misstep was the rendition from Joshua Hawkins (as Schroeder) of “Beethoven Day.” Hawkins’s vocal delivery would have fit in better in a production of a pop musical like Godspell, and when his castmates sang backup in a more traditional musical theatre style, the contrast was jarring.
To sum up, You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown is a nice production of a mediocre show. Audience members that crave familiarity and the chance to reacquaint themselves with Charles M. Schulz’s classic characters will enjoy the play. But musical theatre fans likely have little reason to see the production because its script and score are remarkably inferior to most plays that arts councils choose to mount.