Charlie Brown adds diversity to its heart, soul

By Michael H. Margolin
Special to The Detroit News

It's still Peanuts, no matter what. And it's still got the heart and soul of Charlie Brown, according to Director Michael Mayer, who is in charge of updating, revising and reinventing the 1967 You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown. The show opens at the Fisher on Wednesday before going on to Broadway. Why now? The 50th anniversary of the comic strip is coming up, Mayer says by phone from tryouts in Baltimore, and Peanuts is almost mythological.

The show is still about a typical day in the life of Charlie Brown, (originally played by Gary Berghoff of M*A*S*H), Mayer says. But this production, which includes rewrites of some material and enhancement of characters such as Peppermint Patty and Sally, is a Broadway product. You know this because Mayer describes Sally as the one with the most existential angst.

Instead of wooden cubes, this time out: sets! They look like a series of animated cels, Mayer says.

Andrew Lippa, who hails from Oak Park, has rearranged the music for a five-piece band and written two additional songs. It's colorful, Mayer says enthusiastically; the costumes are reminiscent of what the characters wear in the comic strips.

"I've always had a soft spot for Peanuts," says Mayer, who played Schroeder in college. No soft spots in the marketing concept: "It was very important to me that we be as open as possible to casting so that we represent America as it is," Mayer says emphatically.

The cast is multiethnic, multiracial, multireligious. B.D. Wong (Linus) is an Asian-American; Schroeder is played by the African-American actor Stanley Wayne Mathis; Anthony Rapp, a Jewish American, plays Charlie. So Peanuts approaches the millennium and Broadway with a more colorful cast, sets, new music and existential angst. An opportunity for the Peanuts-loving theatergoer not to be mythed.


and a review...

You'll find the playful 'Charlie' a bit familiar

{Hearty cheers}

By Michael H. Margolin

The revival of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, which opened Wednesday at the Fisher Theatre, is about funny-looking kids . Their portraits are hung on stage as the actors who play them come on singing the title song. The actors are adults - even the one playing the dog - but seem very childlike.

So. Nothing very important happens on stage, though as one of the kids, Sally, says, dropping her ice-cream cone is like living a Shakespearean tragedy.

Everyday things are really somehow terribly important when they happen to you, and living through one day - the show could be called A Day in the Life of Charlie Brown and Friends ... and Relatives ... and Dog Snoopy - is a kind of triumph. Each of the characters has an identifiable trait: Sally is bossy. Lucy is crabby. Linus is adaptive. Snoopy is imaginative. And so on. Charlie Brown is semiwise, almost heroic - he survives our lives lived out as his own - and is also depressed. They are all, also, cute. Who among us wouldn't like, like Charlie, to be cutely rather than acutely depressed?

Maybe a good show like Y.A.G.M.C.B., stopping here on its way to Broadway, is the best medicine. The kids in Wednesday night's audience loved it. So did their parents. The rest of us giggled and guffawed and saw our shadow flit fitfully on the stage among the Crayola-bright sets, costumes and lights by artists with a knowing eye: David Gallo, Michael Krass and Kenneth Posner.

The songs are fun to hear. And easy to understand. A new one for this revival is by music supervisor and Oak Park native Andrew Lippa, and it's clever. As Schroeder would say, "sophisticated without being pretentious."

There are some real star turns, such as Roger Bart as Snoopy. He's better than cute - performances like this get Tony awards in New York. Everyone is swell, actually, though B.D. Wong as Linus is one of the swellest, and Anthony Rapp is so C.B. that he erases the memory of himself as Mark in Rent on Broadway. (gasp! never! -ed)

Michael Mayer is the director. It might be said that he's in touch with his child, and that he has updated the show very nicely.

Good grief, it's a dandy show, Michael Mayer.

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