Peanuts characters come to life in 'Charlie Brown'

June 16, 1992|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,Contributing Writer

Charles M. Schulz's "Peanuts" gang was everywhere in the 1960s, as you baby boomers might recall.

Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy, Linus, Schroeder and the rest frequently turned up on greeting cards, sweat shirts, commercials, lunch boxes, TV specials and feature films, as well as in books, rock songs, ("Snoopy Versus the Red Baron" by The Royal Guardsmen, remember?) and even a fascinating published dissertation from the University of Chicago School of Divinity entitled "The Gospel According to Peanuts."

Could a Broadway musical have been far behind? Well, it wasn't, and a delightful revue called "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" opened up shop on the Great White Way and added yet a few more shekels to Mr. Schulz's bank account.

"You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" has remained in the repertoire for a couple of decades now, and for good reason. It is an intimate, cute, funny vehicle that conveys the humor and charm of these timeless characters. I still think that Snoopy's quest for the Red Baron, complete with Sopwith Camels, the aerodrome in France and choked up choruses of "It's A Long Way To Tipperary" out-Thurbers Thurber. It's one of the greatest flights of whimsy I've ever encountered.

"Charlie Brown," as I see it, is more than just kid's stuff. It is truly a celebration of one man's enormous creativity and is thus a show worth doing well.

Which it certainly is over at the Annapolis Summer Garden Theater in the ASGT's initial production of this summer season. The six-member cast has created a well-integrated, fast-paced evening of theater that should delight viewers, whatever their age.

Eric Badertscher is a delightfully "blah" Charlie Brown who conveys his character's juvenile angst with a plaintive speaking voice, commendable facial energy and the strongest singing voice in the cast.

As always, Mary Armour is a bundle of energy on stage, which is a good thing, for no slacker can begin to bring Lucy Van Pelt to life.

Whether polling her peers as to the extent of her crabbiness, striving mightily to find 100 words to write in her "Peter Rabbit" book report, or plunging a stiletto into Charlie Brown's psyche with her sadistic psychiatric counseling, Armour is a sight to behold.

Patrick Wenning hijacks the production regularly in his stints as the hyper-imaginative Snoopy. Agile, energetic and expressive, Wenning's evocation of canine cool is great fun to watch. His Red Baron scene is exceptionally well-staged, as is the rabbit-chasing sequence in which he humors Patty (played by the talented Katie McAllister) despite the fact he doesn't even know what a rabbit smells like!

Scott Nichols makes a fine blanket-toting intellectual in his portrayal of Linus, and Tom Gately excels as Schroeder, the young Beethoven pianist who, alas for him, is the apple of Lucy's eye.

Both fellows sing well, though notes in the lower register occasionally elude them. Gately is particularly impressive in the Robin Hood sequence of the "Book Report" song, despite the senselessly fast tempo forced upon him. Good grief!

Some recurring unpleasantness comes from the overdone, droning synthesizer accompaniment that occasionally gets in the way of the cute score. Accompaniments to "The Doctor Is In" and "Happiness" resemble Vangelis' schlocky Gallo wine commercial more than the authentic Charlie Brown sound. Chariots of Peanuts. Bleaah!

Despite the tacky accompaniment, the ASGT clearly has another winner on its hands, and I hope the show is better attended during the remainder of its run than it was Saturday evening.

In fact, as the parent of a 7-year-old and a 5-year-old who love this show dearly but are not allowed to stay up so late into the evening, I have a suggestion. The Summer Garden Theater might consider offering a few matinee or early evening performances of "Charlie Brown" for the early-to-bed crowd and their parents. I think the place would be packed. The kids would love it.

The only thing missing would be the lighting, which at Saturday's performance was a complete mess anyway.

Think about it, ASGT!

The Annapolis Summer Garden Theater production of "You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown" runs through July 18. Performances are at 8:45 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays. Tickets are $9 Thursdays and Sundays, $10 Fridays and Saturdays. Tickets are $7 on Thursdays and Sundays for seniors, children and groups of 20 or more. Information: 268-0809 or 268-9212.

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