The Record (Bergen County, NJ)
February 5, 1999

Is "Peanuts" still happening in pop-culture circles?

The answer is likely to determine the success of "You're a Good
Man, Charlie Brown," which opened Thursday night at the Ambassador

The revival, though rather small-scale for Broadway, is brightly
and pleasantly done. And the six-person cast is engaging, with the droll
Roger Bart as Snoopy and the assertive Kristin Chenoweth as Sally
especially fine.

But the show is banking on an audience being entertained by the
ultra-familiar: the very well-known personality quirks of the "Peanuts"
gang, and Charles Schulz's device of putting grown-up thoughts into his
little kids heads.

The original production opened off-Broadway in 1967, when Schulz's
comic strip was 17 years old, and ran for five seasons (and has been
performed in high school auditoriums and by small-theater groups ever
since). This Broadway production debuts as"Peanuts" approaches its 50th
birthday, and is with us not only in the strip that Schulz still draws,
but in TV shows, videos, greeting cards, and a staggering number of
other items.

At this late date, can a song about Charlie Brown's klutziness, or
his unrequited love for the little redheaded girl still be compelling?

The fact is, despite Anthony Rapp's best efforts, Charlie Brown
seems now a rather boring fellow taking us down a well-worn path.

As Lucy, Ilana Levine reiterates her character's long-documented
bossiness and crabby attitude, while B.D. Wong's song about Linus
insecurity, "My Blanket and Me, "tells us something we've known for
many, many years. Stanley Wayne Mathis' Schroeder is, of course, a
serious-minded piano interpreter of Beethoven. (There's a song called
"Beethoven Day").

The songs are mixed with little scenes of dialogue, taken from the
strips. (Snoopy bemoans his status as a dog: "There's just so little
hope of advancement.")

Director Michael Mayer has updated the show, originally composed
and written by Clark Gesner, and added a couple of songs by Andrew
Lippa. But unless you're a zealous fan of the original, you won't
notice."Peanuts" has never been about being topical.

Mayer moves the show along at a nice pace, and the cartoon-colored
costumes of Michael Krass, and especially the sets by David Gallo, which
copy Schulz and look like the strip's homey backgrounds, add warmth and
style to the evening.

In one of the high spots, Snoopy, atop his doghouse Sopwith Camel,
chases the Red Baron through the air, with the moving sky background
creating the effect of a rolling plane high above the earth.

It's a delightful bit of stagecraft. More important, it goes beyond
the evening's literal-minded transfer of the strip's panels to the
stage. As something unexpected, it provides a welcome jolt to a
production that's perhaps too faithful to "Peanuts" for its own good.

GRAPHIC: PHOTO - Kristin Chenoweth as Sally and Roger Bart as Snoopy in"You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown."

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