The New York Times
            Sunday, February 14, 1999

          What if the 'Peanuts' Gang Graduated to Cheeversville?

          By VINCENT CANBY

              N EW YORK -- That Charles Schulz doesn't rate an entry in the Oxford Companion to
               American Literature can only be explained as some ghastly oversight on the part of the
          editors. It is true that Schulz is known primarily as a cartoonist. Yet he not only writes his own
          scripts for "Peanuts," which first appeared in 1950; he also letters his own dialogue in the balloons
          that float over his characters' heads. Not even John Cheever, John Updike or any of the other
          esteemed chroniclers of life in the American suburbs and exurbs after World War II could make
          such a claim. What, after all, do we mean when we speak of "a man of letters?"

          Ponder that.

          In the meantime, if you're looking for a gentle, wise, very
          cheering entertainment, you couldn't do better than to
          visit the Ambassador Theater to see the almost-new,
          pocket-size musical "You're a Good Man, Charlie
          Brown." This is Michael Mayer's revival of the 1967 Off
          Broadway hit, based on the "Peanuts" comic strip, for
          which Clark Gesner wrote the music, book and lyrics.

          Among other things, you will discover a blissfully sunny
          alternate universe to the one of broken marriages, career
          compromises, alcoholism, mental breakdowns (plus the
          occasional redemption) that became so familiar in
          American literature of the postwar years.

          This isn't to suggest for a minute that Schulz had any such ideas in mind when he created the
          born-to-lose Charlie Brown and the other members of the "Peanuts" gang. They remain forever
          young in Schulz's static universe, where no one seems to be older than 10 and where the most poetic
          mind among them is possessed by a beagle named Snoopy.

          The landscape around them is generic and two-dimensional: a tree is a tree, a cloud a cloud, a
          doghouse a doghouse. Yet Schulz's characters are so accurately and eccentrically realized, you
          suspect that if they ever grew up, they would be much like Cheever's, getting into boozy Saturday
          night scrapes in a town with a name like Shady Hill. Charlie Brown and his friends may be children,
          but they wear their neuroses with pride.

          Think of Lucy, a crabby child only too happy to tell someone the blunt, embarrassing truth, who is
          madly in love with the piano-playing Schroeder and serenely unaware that, for him, she doesn't exist.
          The adult Lucy will be the last to know her husband is sleeping with every woman in the
          neighborhood except her. Schroeder will leave home hoping for a career as a concert artist, but he
          will wind up playing the organ in any church that will have him. Then there is Linus, who walks
          around clutching his beloved blanket, an embryonic fetishist's festishist if there ever was one.

          Charlie Brown's little sister, Sally (who replaces the character of Patty in Mayer's revival of the
          show), is all Shirley Temple corkscrew curls and simpering grins. But as played by the spectacularly
          funny Kristin Chenoweth, she has a voice that is sharp enough to etch monograms into Baccarat
          crystal. She will be Shady Hill's most successful fundraiser, at least in part because people will pay
          her to stay away.

          Dear sweet clumsy Charlie Brown? He will drop out of college, run a hardware store, coach a
          second-rate Little League team and, in his middle years, start to (lower your voice so the children
          can't hear) d-r-i-n-k. The most humane, least neurotic of the gang is Snoopy, and he will be long
          gone by the time his old pals fall apart.

          These fantasies are not meant to belittle Schulz's classic strip, but to explain its long-term appeal. His
          accomplishment has been to create children who are recognizable both as children and as the adults
          they will become. They are not exactly the kids next door. They live in a reality that is singular to the
          Schulz strip.

          It is this quality that makes Mayer's "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" such an endearing
          endeavor, a series of sketches intended to represent an average day in the life of Charlie Brown. In
          most cases the members of the cast, never attempt to deny the evidence of their actual ages. Instead,
          they play their roles straight, that is, from the inside out, without resorting to all-purpose kiddie

          The results are astonishing in several cases. Ms. Chenoweth's Sally is both a kid you might want to
          swat if you had to live with her, and a personality who tomorrow could play Miss Adelaide in "Guys
          and Dolls." She is magical on stage. So, too, is B.D. Wong, who made his Broadway debut in "M.
          Butterfly" in 1988. Now in his later 30s, he appears to be having the time of his life giving a priceless
          performance as the thumb-sucking, blanket-clutching, singing and dancing Linus. Not for a minute
          does he disguise the man he is but, in him, Linus lives. How does he do it? I haven't a clue. That's

          Ilana Levine, whose grating voice is also a superb musical comedy weapon, is enchanting as the
          furrow-browed Lucy, as when she instructs Linus to study Charlie Brown's "Failure Face." "Notice
          the deep lines," she says with nasty pleasure, "the dull, vacant look in the eyes."

          Playing the show's star beagle is Roger Bart, a marvelous clown whose manic energy and facial
          expressions are reminiscent of Ronnie Graham's. He is an explosively comic joy as Snoopy, whether
          doing imaginary battle with the Red Baron in the skies over France, lolling in the sun atop his
          doghouse or anticipating the delights of his evening meal.

          Stanley Wayne Mathis is as lively as his meager material allows in the role of Schroeder, while
          Anthony Rapp, a good actor you may remember as the camcorder operator in "Rent," appears to be
          bewildered as Charlie Brown. The role is not especially rewarding, I suspect.

          Charlie Brown is a passive figure. He is diffident, lonely, apologetic, not easily brought to active life
          by someone who does not yet have his own idiosyncratic stage presence, such as a young Robert
          Morse. Rapp's way is sometimes to play down to Charlie Brown, as in his taking small, childlike
          steps, and at other times to play him as a more or less conventional musical comedy juvenile in the
          middle of what is otherwise a cartoon.

          Andrew Lippa, the show's musical supervisor and arranger, has written new material for some of the
          Gesner songs and two new numbers of his own. The one you will remember: "My New Philosophy,"
          in which Sally realizes that she can respond to almost any statement by saying "That's what you
          think," and Schroeder decides that his comeback will be, "Why are you telling me?"

          "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" is small in scale, simply but effectively set in a cartoon world,
          and demands a certain knowledge of and affection for Schulz's work. Mayer, whose last major
          Broadway hit was the powerhouse revival of Arthur Miller's "View From the Bridge," is clearly a
          man who likes to test his range.

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