'Charlie Brown'

By Frank Scheck
Hollywood Reporter
February 5, 1999

      Arriving just in time to celebrate the 50th anniversary of perennially popular Charles M. Schulz comic strip "Peanuts," this revival of 1967 musical "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" officially marks the lovable character's Broadway debut.

An amiable, low-key delight, director Michael Mayer's production might be better suited for a smaller venue, but it could certainly help fill the need for wholesome family entertainment on the Great White Way.

Substantially altered from its original incarnation, this "Charlie Brown" features many new skits, two new songs and revisions in the vocal and musical arrangements. But the net effect remains the same, that of bringing to life a half-dozen figures from the beloved comic, including, of course, the title character (Anthony Rapp, in a significant departure from his last musical turn, in "Rent); his sassy younger sister Sally (Kristin Chenoweth); the philosophical, security-blanket-clutching Linus (B.D. Wong); Beethoven-loving Schroeder (Stanley Wayne Mathis); the irascible, psychological-advice-dispensing Lucy (Ilana Levine); and, of course, the hippest character in the bunch, Snoopy (Roger Bart).

Clark Gessner's book, supplemented by new material from Andrew Lippa, is a collection of short sketches adapted from the original comics, and more than one generation of fans will find much here both to amuse them and to rekindle fond memories. Indeed, the baby boomers in the audience fairly gasped with delight every time a familiar set piece _ from Snoopy's imaginary aerial dogfights to Lucy's hanging in rapt adoration from Schroeder's piano _ was unveiled. David Gallo's scenic design, framed by a representation of old newspapers, incorporates many of the familiar visual motifs from the comic strip with delightful results.

Gessner's musical score, again supplemented by Andrew Lippa, is a serviceable, tuneful collection featuring clever lyrics perfectly in tune with Schulz's original voice. Although none of the songs is an outright standout, all manage to score comedic and melodic points.

Members of the politically correct, multiracial cast go through their paces in skillful and enjoyable fashion, with the standouts being Bart's hilariously insouciant Snoopy and Chenoweth's spunky Sally. Wong quite rightly underplays as Linus but gets many laughs with his sly timing and deadpan responses, and Levine tears through Lucy's temper tantrums with gusto.

Mathis is given little to do as Schroeder, and Rapp has even less as Charlie Brown, who even though he's the title character is the least compelling figure on view. Of course, that's been Charlie's lament all along.

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