HEADLINE: Review of 'You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown' at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts
BYLINE: Dan Zeff
In 1967, ''You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown'' opened in a tiny off-Broadway theater and ran for almost 1,600 performances. The ''Peanuts'' revue is back, cute and whimsical and occasionally inspired, on its way to a major Broadway theater in February.
The show is stopping off for a brief run at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts on its pre-New York City tour cross country. The revue is largely unchanged from the hit that captivated audiences 30 years ago, with the addition of one song and a great many more production values.
Five of the six characters remain the same Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, Schroeder and Snoopy. The show is basically a loosely related set of sketches that trace a day in the life of Charlie Brown and his little colleagues. The incidents and dialogue are all taken from the sacred texts written and drawn over the years by Charles Schulz.
The revue concentrates on the most familiar running set pieces in the comic strip Snoopy and the Red Baron, Charlie Brown the eternal loser trying to fly a kite or futilely attempting to introduce himself to the little red headed girl at school. Linus still clutches his blanket and Schroeder still plays Beethoven on his toy piano. Lucy remains as nasty as ever and Snoopy as endearing. And the Peanuts gang still can't win a baseball game.
The major shift from the original version is Charlie Brown's little sister Sally replacing Peppermint Patty. Sally also gets the one new song by Andrew Lippa added to the original Clark Gesner score. The substitution is felicitous, thanks to the perky and vivacious performance by Kristin Chenoweth, who steals the show as Sally.
Chenoweth looks like a miniature Gloria from the ''All in the Family'' TV sitcom. She has the best voice in the show and is a major participant in two of the three best numbers of the evening. Her show stopper is the new number called ''My New Philosophy'' that is filled with energy and wit. She shares her other superb number with Snoopy, a rabbit chase that sparkles with bright humor and visual invention and clever musical cues.
The third blockbuster in the score is Snoopy's ecstatic tribute to eating called ''Suppertime.'' Roger Bart has a grand time kicking up his heels as the dog who finds dining an almost mystically joyous experience.
The rest of the revue is diverting but rarely soars. Somehow the ''Good grief'' and ''Aaarrgghh'' and ''You blockhead'' and ''I can't stand it'' catch phrases of the comic strip sound leaden on the stage. The choreography is mundane except for a funny ensemble dance number centering on Linus and his blanket. The music is serviceable but more quotes from the classic Vince Guaraldi TV score would have pepped up the production.
Ilana Levine (who looks like a Lily Tomlin clone) zestfully throws herself into the role of the bitchy Lucy. But the three actors who play Charlie Brown (Anthony Rapp), Schroeder (Stanley Wayne Mathis), and Linus (B.D. Wong) don't make much of an impression.
Scenery wasn't a factor in the 1967 staging, but the new version glows with large cutout sets and props that replicate the colorful visuals from the ''Peanuts'' TV specials and motion pictures. David Gallo's scenic design and Kenneth Posner's lighting inject a brilliant jolt of flash and sizzle without overwhelming what is basically a fragile light comedy.
''You're a Good Man Charlie Brown'' is still an intimate show and it will be interesting to see how New York audiences receive the production in a large Manhattan theater at Broadway prices. But there is no question that the revue is that rare commodity that can entertain adults at least as much as children. The production should also make a star out of Kristin Chenoweth.
''Your a Good Man, Charlie Brown'' runs through Saturday at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 North Skokie Boulevard. There will be a performance tonight at 8 p.m., Friday at 3 and 8 p.m., and Saturday at 11 and 3 p.m. There will be no performances on Wednesday or Thursday. Tickets are $46 and $48. Call (847) 673-6300.
The show gets a rating of 3 1/2 stars.
BACK to the YAGMCB page...