Baseball. Tap dancing. Beagles. Philosophy. Piano. Friends. Blankies. These are all things that make me happy but in the complexity of grown-up life, I often forget about them. Until I saw each of these joys in Citadel Theatre’s production of You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown and as the cast sang about the simple things that made this group of five “kids” and one “dog” happy, I was reminded how these simple things made me happy too! Watching the energetic cast playfully dance, sing, banter and philosophize for two hours in the cozy Citadel brought a joyful warmth to my heart as I felt like I was returning home to see my first in-person professional theater performance since the pandemic began over 18 months ago.
You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown was written in 1967 by Clark Gesner and based on Charles M. Schulz’s beloved “Peanuts” comic strips. It is a musical consisting of a series of vignettes involving Charlie Brown, his sister Sally and loyal beagle Snoopy, and their friends Lucy, Linus, and Schroeder. There isn’t one storyline to follow but rather small scenes drawing on the popular themes of the comic strip- Lucy fawning over Schroeder, Linus philosophizing well beyond his young years, Sally being an annoying little sister, Snoopy chasing down the Red Baron and Charlie Brown being- well, Charlie Brown. This was the second time I had seen a production of this show and the first had been sub-par, so it took me a little while to get into the performance. However, by the thrilling Act I finale “Rabbit Chase” and “The Book Report” my heart was taken by these “children.” The fast-paced Act II kept me engaged and my eyes even got a little misty by the end of the show.
Director Joe Lehman nailed the difficult casting of this show, and from the start, I had no doubts that the adults I saw on stage were, in fact, small children, navigating their crazy childhood world. Part of this was probably due to the insane energy this cast put forward throughout the performance. Sally Brown (Alley Ellis) especially is constantly bouncing around the stage, jump roping, tap dancing, striking sassy little sister poses with sassy little sister faces left and right! And yet, Ellis never appeared to break a sweat as she perfectly captured the spunk of Sally. I hate to call the other little sibling of the show “adorable” as in real life he is actually a grown man, but Marcellus Burt was exactly that- an adorable Linus, lovingly carrying his blue blankie everywhere, occasionally sucking his thumb in between sharing his wise beyond his young years’ expressions or tormenting big sister Lucy. As I still have a child at home who sucks his finger while snuggling his lovie, it was easy to be convinced that Linus was a cuddly young boy, who also displayed boundless energy. Linus’s big sister Lucy (Sierra White), strutted around the stage like she owned the place. White gave Lucy the confidence the character needs while still acting in a way that kept Lucy believably young. Jimmy Hogan as Schroeder and Tusdai B. Perry as Snoopy round out the cast of friends, but it is Neil Stratman’s Charlie Brown that steals the show. Perfectly cast, Stratman’s Brown takes lump after lump and while completely self-aware, keeps Charlie optimistic. We can’t feel bad for him for long. I wanted to rush on stage and give him a hug and tell him it would all be ok but instead I squeezed my own little Charlie Brown sitting next to me- who loved the show!
This five-member cast filled the Citadel Theater with sounds that felt like musical hugs, while the simple yet functional set (designed by Eric Luchen) made of boxes and squares glowed with colorful warmth (lights by Samuel Stephen ). Citadel Theater feels like a home to me and it felt fitting to be welcomed back to it by my Peanuts friends.
You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown is playing at the Citadel Theatre through December 23.