You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown
by Hartford Children's Theatre

The recently released biography of Charles Schultz by David Michaelis describes a deeply lonely man as full of insecurities as Charlie Brown, and who felt true happiness was as eternally elusive as the football when Charlie Brown tried to kick it. Whether that’s an accurate portrayal of the man who gave us the beloved Peanuts comic strip and immortal characters is debated. But there’s no doubt we’ve all felt like Charlie Brown at times in our lives, which is probably why he resonates with so many people all over the world. And just before The Great Pumpkin arrives, the autumn leaves just beginning to change, Hartford Children’s Theatre is staging the most successful musical based on the Peanuts characters, You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.

The comfortable new theatre is located just behind a nice, old house on one of the quiet, picturesque main streets of Hartford. All the seats are good and close to the small stage, which is decked out nicely by Scenic Designer Ryan Ratelle including a couple big blocks painted with landscapes and representations of some of the characters’ shirts on alternating sides, some large, movable background panels with landscapes that can be reversed to depict homes and other settings, paintings of a mailbox and a hydrant on the wings, and countless cutouts of Peanuts comic strips pasted up all along the outside of the proscenium arch, which frames our live comic strip filled with several talented performers of a cast ranging in age from 11 to 18.

Of course, any discussion of the cast of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown has to begin with…Snoopy. Ronnie Bowman is a great comedian as the daring, sometimes lazy, sometimes melodramatic beagle who fights the Red Baron from his doghouse rooftop despite being terrified of heights – a phobia he portrays very well, perhaps drawing on the actor’s own phobia of dogs, which has made this role somewhat unusual and therapeutic for him. The director and actors do a marvelous job of making Snoopy and a hilarious Woodstock (Jenna Wyman) into a good team, often hanging out together on the sidelines when not center stage, always in tune with each other. When Snoopy survives his moment of fear of heights, a relieved Woodstock has to wipe away her own nervous perspiration. When Snoopy is in a fast-flying dogfight with the Red Baron, Woodstock lazily flies by without a care in the world. When Sally wants to go rabbit hunting with Snoopy, Woodstock reluctantly puts on the rabbit ears (but puts an end to it when she throws on fake fangs and scares Sally away). And when Snoopy is preparing for the pinnacle scene of the show, the big Suppertime number, it’s Woodstock who coolly hands Joe Cool his sunglasses. Next thing you know, Snoopy is leading the cast into a celebration of supper that will culminate in the charisma of a religious revival and involve a kickline with stainless steel supper bowls.

Lisa Crowley is a tough-as-nails Lucy with a classic obnoxious attitude, a brutal psychologist, and a gushy but frustrated pursuer of piano-playing Schroeder. Eleven-year-old Casie Pepe-Winshell is a remarkable young talent with outstanding comedy, singing, expressions, and sass to spare – all of which comes into play in describing her many “new philosophies.” Other good performances come from David Goldman offering a serious examination of Peter Rabbit and leading the cast in My Blanket and Me (he’s Linus, of course). As Schroeder, Tyler Propfe leads the cast in a funky celebration (but not commercialization) in honor of Beethoven Day. As Violet, Adreanna Buccheri is an energetic, fun, and funny presence throughout, even during scene changes (Adreanna actually uses a violet-colored cell phone in the real world – a Christmas present from last year. Destined by Santa to play the role of Violet?) Elsewhere, Thomas Beebe clearly relishes the role of the messy Pig Pen. Emmie Pepe-Winshell and Kaitlyn Woelfel are friends Peppermint Patty and nerdy Marcie. And Kasie Fagan is Charlie’s crush, the Little Red-Headed Girl, whose wistful and sympathetic glances towards Charlie give us hope she might like him as much as he likes her.

Director Lisa Foss has a great sense for the show, and every member of her cast is in tune with that sense each moment of the play. Possibly helped by all the research they had to do for the show – reading tons of Peanuts comic strips. The result is a charming production that is sure to give the world a little more Happiness.

Oh good grief, I almost forgot. Charlie Brown! Luke Murphy is the highly likeable underdog who you can’t help but root for, even when you know how it’s going to end up. When he optimistically points his baseball bat Babe Ruth style towards the fence, you just know he’s about to strike out. But you also know he’s going to keep on trying.

Performed October 12-28, 2007.

Rob Hopper
National Youth Theatre

~ Cast ~

Charlie Brown: Luke Murphy
Snoopy: Ronnie Bowman
Lucy: Lisa Crowley
Schroeder: Tyler Propfe
Linus: David Goldman
Sally: Casie Pepe-Winshell
Violet: Andreanna Buccheri
Pig Pen: Thomas Beebe
Peppermint Patty: Emmie Pepe-Winshell
Marcie: Kaitlyn Woelfel
Little Red-Headed Girl: Kasie Fagan
Woodstock: Jenna Wyman

Director/Musical Director/Choreographer: Lisa Foss
Costume Designer: Susan Aziz
Scenic Designer: Ryan Ratelle
Lighting Designer: Jennifer Blessing Miceli
Sound Designer: Michael C. Miceli
Production Stage Manager: Katelyn Boushee


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