Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
Based on the classic "Peanuts" comic strip by the late Charles M. Schulz, this show follows a day in the life of the down-on-his-luck child Charlie Brown, his dog Snoopy, and their friends Lucy, Patty, Linus, and Schroeder.
Though the musical was revised in 1999, with added songs by Andrew Lippa (The Addams Family, The Wild Party), Playhouse presents the original version with book, music and lyrics by Clark Gesner. The original score, though fairly simple, is fun, pleasant, and faithful to the "Peanuts" world, effectively capturing the childlike language and sound. The title number, "Happiness," and "The Book Report" are the strongest numbers. You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown is neither a traditional book show nor a revue, but rather a collection of scenes that could be from any day in the lives of these characters. As presented, the short vignettes develop the characters as the show progresses, but there is really no advancement of story or dramatic tension. For this reason, the show feels somewhat longer than its two hour and fifteen-minute runtime.
Cincinnati Playhouse's production, despite using the original written material, is not in any way old-fashioned. This version incorporates the actors-as-musicians approach to the material, as seen previously here in productions of Company and Merrily We Roll Along directed by John Doyle. Thankfully, with Charlie Brown, this tactic is far less intrusive and doesn't hamper the clarity of storytelling as the others (especially Merrily) did.
Director Bill Fennelly infuses a playful tone to the piece, as well as a hip factor which is carried out in other elements of the show as well. In this version, "My Blanket and Me" is a showstopper. A double turntable is used very effectively in also setting the tone of several numbers by Fennelly's variation of the speed of the rotation. The limited choreography by Jenn Rose is well suited to the piece. The actor/musician concept was crafted by Nick Cearley and Lauren Molina, who perform together often as The Skivvies and are cast members; and the new instrumental and vocal arrangements by music director Michael Holland add much to the theatrically and coolness of this production.
Each cast member plays multiple instruments (often in excess of five each), and this versatility is put to great use. As Charlie Brown, Rob Morrison captures the nervous, put-upon, and sad-sack nature of the character skillfully, and is very endearing in the role. Lauren Molina is a fierce and hilarious Lucy, embodying the character's obnoxious, self-absorbed, and scheming hijinks perfectly. Nick Cearley nails the sweet-natured and wise persona of Linus, and gets to show off some smooth dance moves. Armando Gutierrez conveys the imaginative mindset of Snoopy with plenty of showbiz pizzazz. Brett Ryback is the primary pianist for the show (befitting of the character as well), and he is also aptly intensely high-strung and introspective as Schroeder. Stephanie Anne Johnson supplies straightforward, enthusiastic quips and great musicianship as Patty. The instrumental skills of the cast must be mentioned again, whether on guitars, drums, cello, upright bass, or more unique items such as boom whackers, which are employed comedically to make "The Book Report" a very fun number.
In addition to the double turntable, set designer Michael Schweikardt provides a back wall with many well-used windows, doors and levels, and a spiffy dog house and piano. The lighting by Kenton Yeager is professionally rendered, and the sound by Nick Kourtides is crystal clear. The costumes by Kathleen Geldard are slightly adult, hipster takes on the classic outfits for the characters, and are right in line with the tone of the production.
You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown has a somewhat lightweight book, but is fun, melodic, and good natured. The production at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park may be the best we are likely to ever encounter, thanks to the inventiveness of the presentation and the talented cast.
You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, through May 18, 2019, at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, 962 Mt Adams Cir, Cincinnati OH. For tickets and information, call 513-421-3888 or visit www.cincyplay.com.