Six students performed “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown” on Sept. 24, taking the audience out the Fine Arts Building and into the Schulz County Schools to experience a day in the life of Charles Schulz’s “Peanuts” gang.
The college student cast undertook the challenge of acting in a sold out performance with an audience ranging from children to older adults.
The song “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” opened the show and introduced the gang—Charlie Brown, Sally Brown, Schroeder, Linus van Pelt, Lucy van Pelt and Snoopy.
Sadly, other characters, like Woodstock, Snoopy’s chirpy little companion, Peppermint Patty and Marcie did not make the final script; Arthur Whitelaw must have noticed this, too, for he cast them in his Off-Broadway sequel, “Snoopy! The Musical.”
Schluz created his characters in 1950, giving the cast over fifty years of fan following to rise up to, and they did, splendidly.
I felt newly reacquainted with the childhood favorites as I saw Jake Alley play the ups and downs of Charlie Brown; Luke Newsome suck his thumb and hold his blanket as Linus; Jessica Mathis skip and jump rope as Sally; Holly Dickerson flirt and bully as Lucy; Tim Olivar play the piano as Schroedor; and Jonathan Butts woof and play as Snoopy.
Butts dealt with the most difficult task of portraying the loveable, day-dreaming dog, but his animated expressions and springy movements made him a success.
Duke Guthrie, director and associate professor of theatre, clearly made his cast do its homework, and Elizabeth Powell’s true-to-the-original costumes, with improvising white overalls on Butts’ part, helped to resurrect the characters to the stage.
Alley’s strong, clear tenor voice topped as the best singing voice, under the musical direction of Christopher Bailey, communication arts professor.
Newsome’s bass singing contrasted with his lisp-impeded talking.
Olivar’s and Dickerson’s singing wavered at first, during “Beethoven Day” and “The Doctor is In” in particular, but strengthened as the show progressed.
Mathis’ soprano voice fit the sassy Sally, and Butt’s voice was solid. “Glee Club Rehearsal” exhibited the entire cast’s abilities as the song switched quickly between talking and singing, which each member did without missing a beat.
The cast never noticeably got off step during its major dance numbers, such as Snoopy’s “Suppertime,” which displayed some jazzy moves reminiscent of old-time movies, and Linus’ “My Blanket and Me,” which had him dancing and twirling with the love of his childhood.
Guthrie and Kimberly Holt, assistant professor of dance, choreographed the show.
Keith Pugh’s sunny day backdrop, his light magenta brick walls and steps and green patterned floor honed into Schluz’s style; however, Snoopy’s doghouse is solid red, not cream and red.
The Off-Broadway musical by Clark Gesner, which premiered in 1967, was revamped to Broadway in 1999 by Michael Mayer and Andrew Lippa, according to the musical’s official United Kingdom website.
Gesner, with Mayer’s additions, preserved Schulz’s witty dialogue, while adapting some memorable allusions such as Lucy’s “Psychiatric Health” booth, Snoopy’s battle with the Red Baron and Charlie Brown’s crush on the little red-headed girl.
Linus and Lucy had their share of shared scenes, but more brother-and-sister moments with Charlie and Sally Brown would have been wonderful to see.
To appeal to a new “Peanuts” fan generation, Schroder used a laptop, and Snoopy and Sally referenced cult films, “Star Wars” and “Harry Potter.”
Updating the 1950’s story shows how Schluz’s characters transcend and relate to any child, no matter what decade.
The theatre and dance department’s smart decision caught the attention of people within and outside of Georgia.
“It was totally delightful,” Nan Swilley, an audience member said. “We came from the mountains of North Georgia to see it.”
When Swilley and her husband, Monroe Swilley, came down for this past “Peach State Summer Theatre,” they saw the musical listed in the departments’ fall schedule.
Having seen a production of the original show over 30 years ago at South Georgia College, they wanted to return and bring their granddaughter, Ava Waters, who is a fan of the comic strip and especially fond of Snoopy, to see it.
Joining them was Dr. Randy Wheeler, former theatre professor who played Snoopy in the South Georgia College production the Swilleys saw.
“I loved the show,” Wheeler said. “I thought (Butts) was wonderful. I liked the changes. They made it more vocally interesting (by having) more songs.”
Sally’s “My New Philosophy” and Schroeder’s “Beethoven Day” were included into the updated Broadway version VSU used, according to Playbill’s website.
The musical was the first performance Sarah Michele from Texas and Rick McKee from Florida have seen at VSU.
The pair of friends came to see Bailey and the accompanist, Brittany Brown. Michele was impressed by the directing, while McKee thought the show was terrific.