“YOU'RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN,” June 17-21, Babcock Theatre, University of Utah (801-581-7100 or tickets.utah.edu)
Charlie Brown, Lucy, Sally, Linus, Schroeder and, of course, Snoopy, come vibrantly to life in the cherished musical “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.”
Salt Lake Shakespeare Company, the University of Utah Department of Theatre’s resident summer production company, presents a delightful and completely enjoyable staging.
The original version opened at a tiny Off-Broadway theater in 1967, and it launched Gary Burghoff into another popular role as Radar in the movie and TV series “M.A.S.H.” The 1999 Broadway revival invigorated the musical with two songs by composer Andrew Lippa and new dialogue by Michael Mayer. The restaging won Tony Awards for Roger Bart as Snoopy and Kristin Chenoweth as Sally, along with catapulting Chenoweth’s stratospheric career.
Denny Berry shows confident flair as director-choreographer. Her staging is lively, and the iconic characters are nicely drawn. Who knew “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” could include elements of a dance musical? Berry did. The dances she stages add unexpected charm. It’s expected that Linus will carouse with his beloved companion in “My Blanket and Me,” but Berry gives each of the cast members a doppelganger blanket to dance alongside Linus and shadow his routine. “Beethoven Day” is another winningly performed dance Berry choreographed.
It also must be made clear upfront that the five-member musical band onstage is splendid. With conductor Alex Marshall on piano, Eugene Vita Dyson on violin/viola, Don Buchanan on reeds, Tyne Meese on bass and Eric Jensen on percussion, the 15 songs of this nearly sung-through musical are performed with brio.
“You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” is a series of vignettes, reminiscent of the four-strip panels of the original daily comic, that follow the genius concept of the comic strip. Charlie Brown fails to fly a kite and laments at not receiving a single valentine, Lucy is enraged she cannot become queen (“It’s probably just a matter of knowing the right people!”) and Linus is terrified to lose his security blanket. The audience is reminded that we were equally stressed at our childhood challenges.
Cast members are current U. students or recent U. grads, and four stand out: Megan Shenefelt as Lucy van Pelt, Wilson Hicken as Schroeder, Connor Norton as Snoopy and Arielle Schmidt as Sally.
Shenefelt has impressive pipes, as illustrated in her solo “Schroeder,” a vamp on a “Moonlight Sonata.” Hicken and Shenefelt have great chemistry with his nice characterization of the composer-loving Schroeder. She gleefully cavorts on the small-scale piano as he devotes his focus to his keyboard. Though she’s here as Lucy van Pelt, the skilled actress could also play the brassy Lucy Ricardo with the same intrusive bravado.
Schmidt is gifted with the show’s best song, “My New Philosophy,” which is engagingly performed. Norton contributes razzmatazz in “Suppertime” and panache while dueling with the Red Baron.
There’s also great talent seen in the set design by Thomas George and costume design by Aaron Swenson. The show is set on a playground, and there are full-scale apparatuses, including a teeter-totter, merry-go-round, rope swing, fireman’s pole and slide. Swenson’s costumes playfully follow the original designs and tailor the adult actors to their roles as children.