“It’s hard on a face when it gets laughed in,” bemoans Charlie Brown comically in No Rules Theater Company’s debut musical production, You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. Based on the iconic comic strip “Peanuts” by Charles M. Schulz, this fun and family-friendly comedic musical tells the story of an average day in the life of six-year-old Charlie Brown and his good friends Linus, Sally, Lucy, Schroeder and, of course, his lovable dog Snoopy. Using the revised score created for the show’s 1999 Broadway revival, director Matt Cowart succeeds in bringing to life Schulz’s kid characters with help from a very funny and talented ensemble cast. This charming production will bring out your inner kid while making you laugh over and over.
The show opens with Charlie Brown, in a standout performance by Augie Praley, running late for school, which is not usual for him. As he struggles to put on his clothes, his friends sing the show’s energetic opening number, “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” where they each give their various opinions of him. The six member cast, clad in brightly colored costumes seemingly straight off the comic strip, run and skip through the small black-box theater and across the low, flat stage covered in Schulz’s vibrant drawings. Their strong, clear vocals and high energy are infectious as the audience is instantly pulled into Charlie Brown’s world.
Throughout the show, Praley perfectly captures Charlie Brown’s happy and eternally hopeful expression as he wonders aloud whether he really is a “good man.” Praley, though not the best vocalist in the cast, is a gifted actor who is very well cast as the loveable Charlie Brown. In one memorable scene, he uses his strong, clear voice and hilarious facial expressions to bring the audience to stitches as he intensely debates whether to say hello to his crush, the Little Red-Haired Girl. Later in the show, Praley again displays his physical comedy skills in the hilarious duet with Lucy, “The Doctor is In,” and in the ensemble song, “The Baseball Game.” Praley was consistently funny and a total delight to watch.
Another highlight performance came from Carolyn Cole’s brilliant portrayal of know-it-all, bossy Lucy. Cole, clad in a bright blue dress and matching blue headband, was a scene-stealer every time she appeared on stage. Her lovely, powerful voice coupled with her flair for physical comedy wowed the audience as she hilariously batted her eyes and tossed her hair in an attempt to woo her musically inclined love interest in “Schroeder.” Cole’s singing was as equally brilliant as her entertaining acting and funny facial expressions. “The Doctor is In” is especially engaging and was one of my favorite songs in the show. Cole gave Lucy a slight but humorous New Jersey/Long Island twang, which played perfectly into her frequent deadpan deliveries.
Schroeder, memorably played by Sean Maurice Lynch, provided one of the show’s highlights in the energetic, wonderfully choreographed song, “Beethoven Day.” His booming voice soared around the small H Street Playhouse stage as he danced and sang with Charlie and the gang.
I would be remiss if I failed to mention Chris French’s fabulous performance as Snoopy. Dressed simply in a black and white shirt and black pants, French’s tall, lanky body spends much of its time crouched next to the leg of Charlie Brown or stretched on the top of his doghouse. Like many of his cast mates, French is also an expert at physical comedy and thrills the audience with his song, “Snoopy.” In act two, French returns with the amusing solo “The Red Barron” but later brings down the house with the side splitting and wonderfully choreographed, “Suppertime,” a clear audience favorite.
Kristen Garaffo and Joshua Morgan also provided entertaining performances as Sally, Charlie Brown’s little sister, and Linus, Charlie’s thumb-sucking, blanket holding friend. Garaffo has a nice, clear voice and clearly had a good time singing “My New Philosophy.” Her energy was evident and engaging. Morgan’s Linus also had some endearing one-liners in the show (“Sucking your thumb without a blanket is like eating a cone without ice cream”). His main solo, “My Blanket and Me,” was enjoyable as he danced around the stage with his blanket in tow. The sequence is a little silly but still a lot of fun.
This is a charming production of an enjoyable Broadway show in a small, intimate theater. So whether you are an avid fan of the “Peanuts” gang or just looking for fresh, upbeat performances by a great cast, I highly recommend that you bring the kid in you to the H Street Playhouse.
You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown
Based on the comic strip “Peanuts” by Charles M. Schulz
Book, Music and Lyrics by Clark Gesner
Additional Dialogue by Michael Mayer
Additional Music and Lyrics by Andrew Lippa
Directed by Matt Cowart
Music direction by Taylor Williams
Choreography by Pauline S. Grossman
Produced by No Rules Theater Co.
Reviewed by Sabrina Daly
You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown runs thru October 17, 2010 at the H Street Playhouse in Washington, DC.
Click here for details, directions and tickets.
YOU’RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN