`Charlie Brown' set to charm at Outback

Sue Kramer directs student-alumni staging of favorite musical

Howard Live

April 27, 2000|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Amazing, isn't it, that it took a cartoon beagle to teach most Americans what little they came to know of the First World War.

Or that culturally illiterate baby boomers who confuse "Madame Butterfly" with Iron Butterfly can pick Ludwig van Beethoven's face out a lineup in a heartbeat, thanks to a cartoon pianist whose toy piano had a bust of the composer's dour visage perched atop it.

Where would we be without Snoopy, Schroeder, Charlie Brown and the master cartoonist, Charles M. Schulz, who died in February and who created one of the greatest flights of fancy ever witnessed in the American culture.

"Peanuts" became much more than a comic-section phenomenon back in the 1960s. Schulz's indelible characters hit prime-time television in specials such as "A Charlie Brown Christmas" and "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown." Before long, lunch boxes, children's apparel, posters, greeting cards and even Band-Aids were festooned with pictures of Charlie Brown and his gang as American capitalism worked its special brand of immortality on the strip's legacy.

And on March 7, 1967, the "Peanuts" brigade entered a new expressive medium when the musical "You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown" opened off-Broadway at Theatre 80 St. Marks in New York City.

True to form, Charlie Brown's theatrical incarnation has become the most-produced musical in the history of the stage, with acting troupes of all ages and pedigrees lining up to share it with a public that never seems to tire of its warm, tuneful humanity.

Our area's latest "You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown" production comes from Howard Community College, which will present a student-alumni production of the Clark Gesner musical based on Charles Schulz's characters tomorrow through May 14 in its Theatre Outback.

Director Sue Kramer has assembled an 18-member cast for this second HCC Student-Alumni presentation, and the first Sunday performance is sold out.

"This is such a sweet show, and we're looking really good," Kramer says. "We'll have the stage set in soft colors, and we can promise our audiences a lot of action."

Principal players include Matt Clark as Charlie Brown; Anthony Scimonelli as Snoopy; Coby Kay Callahan as Lucy; Zach Kates as Linus; Scott Terrill as Schroeder; Natalie Scimonelli as Woodstock; and Denise Cumor as Peppermint Patty. Aaron Broderick will direct the pit orchestra that will accompany the show.

"You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" is a delightful recapitulation of the strip's main story lines. Charlie Brown -- ever in search of a baseball victory, a smile from the little red-haired girl or some sense of affirmation from somewhere -- dominates the action.

Lucy pours out her long-suffering love for Schroeder in a hilarious lament accompanied by Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata," while Linus sings and dances an ode to his omnipresent blanket.

Snoopy takes his doghouse up for aerial combat against the cursed Red Baron, but only when he's not too busy serenading his supper dish.

In dialogue redolent of the strip and in fun, unpretentious music, "Charlie Brown" reminds us anew that fulfillment for children -- for all of us -- comes via the simple pleasures of life that we take for granted at our peril. Happiness is indeed playing the drum in our own school band, singing together when the day is through, and taking the time to cherish those who sing and play along with us.

"You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" will be presented at Howard Community College's Theatre Outback tomorrow through May 14. Show times are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $8 general admission; $5 for students and seniors. Information: 410-772-4900.

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