‘You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown’ may have debuted in 1967, but Brisbane Musical Theatre’s latest production proves it is still as fresh in 2020 as it was over 50 years ago. Based upon cartoonist Charles M. Schulz’s comic strip ‘Peanuts’, the musical is presented in a sketch-style more akin to ‘Saturday Night Live’ than Broadway.
Regularly sketch-style musicals (such as ‘I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change’) seem a little more ‘Jamboree’ and dated than their more modern counterparts. However, with relatable child-centric content and timeless jokes, ‘You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown’ was enjoyed by the entire audience, young and old.
With no real story to follow, we join Charlie Brown and his friends as they traverse the trials and tribulations of being a young child in middle America. Joined by a variety of friends and family including pet beagle Snoopy, Lucy, Linus, Shroeder and his little sister Sally. ‘You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown’ has music and lyrics by Clark Gesner. Additionally, the 1999 revival saw the inclusion of ‘My New Philosophy’ by Andrew Lippa, which has arguably become one of the show’s most successful numbers.
Director Jesse Bradford should be commended for leading an amazing team of nine performers in an extremely enjoyable performance. The staging was effective and every actor was given their time to shine. Bradford’s vision for the show seemed well-thought-out from the outset and despite the melodramatic nature of the show, clear care was taken to ensure it didn’t feel over-the-top.
Although ‘You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown’ isn’t a dance-heavy show, choreographer Danielle Remulta managed to create interesting movements in the small dance breaks and throughout the larger ensemble numbers, obviously collaborating well with Bradford to create a pleasing sense of cohesion. Although the cast’s movements weren’t always totally in sync with one another, this added to the child-like innocence of the production and was thoroughly enjoyable.
It was Jacob Bradford’s Musical Direction that was the star of the show. The crisp tight harmonies throughout were spectacular, especially during the show’s opening title song and ‘Beethoven Day’. The balance between cast members was top drawer, and although the balance between vocals and backing track was usually too vocal-heavy, it seldom detracted. Working with backing tracks can be particularly difficult, especially with songs that sandwich dialogue, but the cast clearly felt comfortable and never missed a beat.
Leading the youthful cast in the titular role of Charlie Brown was Kyle Armstrong, whose portrayal of the glass-half-full character was captivating, in his iconic yellow t-shirt with black zigzags. Armstrong’s beautiful controlled vocals throughout were magical, but it was his quieter, more insular moments where he truly shone.
Larger-than-life Lucy van Pelt was portrayed skillfully by Niamh Cadoo-Dagley, whose bold and brassy performance was chock full of confidence and charisma. Never backwards in coming forwards (the character, not the actor…), Cadoo-Dagley found the perfect vocal timbre for her Lucy, truly embracing the character both vocally and physically. With flawless makeup and perfect (uncredited) costume design, she was a pleasure every time she commanded the stage.
As Charlie’s little sister, Sally Brown, Emma Venzke displayed a skillful maturity of an actor far beyond her years, knowing when to find her spotlight and when to blend into the background. Although her character felt underutilised until Act 2, it was her performance of ‘My New Philosophy’ that brought down the house, performed wonderfully with adept comic timing.
Classical music-loving Schroeder was ably portrayed by Jackson Hughesman, whose vocals were some of the best of the night. With a soulful richness and maturity to his voice – far beyond his age – it was ironically in the less classical sections in which Hughesman excelled. His performance of ‘Beethoven Day’ full of riffs, slides, and jazz-influences was wonderful to experience.
Snoopy, Charlie’s best-friend-cum-beagle was performed ably by Ceitlin Campbell. Although traditionally portrayed by a male actor, Campbell’s Snoopy was wonderfully grounded despite some lofty vocal requirements in the gender swap. Her 11-o’clock number ‘Suppertime’ brought down the house. Full of rambunctious energy, gospel handclaps and kick lines, Campbell’s frenetic energy was excitement-personified, and the audience loved every minute of it.
Rounding out the main cast was Lachlan Dodd as Linus van Pelt, whose performance as the thumb-sucking, blankie-holding infant stole the show. With beautifully-controlled vocals and a maturity to his acting far above his age, Dodd’s portrayal was top-class from his very first note. This being said, his performance of ‘My Blanket and Me’ was a true highlight, ably leading the ensemble in wonderfully kitschy blanketoreography.
The supporting roles of Freida/Marcie, Pig Pen, and Peppermint Patti were portrayed by Jasmine Winstanley, Isaac Chetcuti, and Julia Cox respectively. Although their characters seldom took the limelight, it was the smaller things that their characters brought that made them fun to watch, and all should be commended for their portrayals.
Lighting design by Stephen Moodie made full use of the technology at his disposal, with wonderful effects achieved through the many moving lights and star-curtains on either side of the stage. The lighting had a child-like wonder and whimsy that constantly enhanced the performances on stage. Sound by Nick Moodie was for the most part well-executed, filling the large auditorium nicely. There were a few moments of poor balance between performers and backing track, but these didn’t detract and were generally corrected well.
Rounding out the overall world of childlike innocence was the wonderfully simple, yet effective set design, created by Daniel Campbell, Oliver Svensson, and Oliver Bott. With a striking graphic line art on all set pieces, every single item looked like it belonged and was thought out. The colours used were bold, vibrant and created a wonderful world in which the actors could comfortably bring their characters to life.
Overall, Brisbane Musical Theatre should be extremely proud of their production of ‘You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown’. Yes, it’s no Sondheim, but the main part of the charm is that it doesn’t pretend to be. Like a good Disney film, it works because there are jokes for both the young and young-at-heart. The cast (and creative team) should be commended for having maturity way beyond their years, and with the right nurturing, these young performers should dominate South East Queensland in the not-to-distant future.
‘You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown’ was presented by Brisbane Musical Theatre and plays just two more performances – 2pm & 7pm, 4 January, 2020. Tickets are still available at http://musicaltheatre.co.
This article has been edited by Shane Webb.