The beloved “Peanuts” characters are memorably brought to life in Provo Theatre Company’s utterly charming “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.”
The 1967 musical was revised for Broadway in 1999, but this is the original one — the one you probably saw in high school, and the one that has become literally the most-produced musical in the world.
Staged as a day in the life of Charlie Brown, the show (written by Clark Gesner) is a series of skits, songs and vignettes capturing the insouciance of the “Peanuts” characters. This production, directed by Jeff Martin, understands these kids. The actors don’t just imitate what they’ve seen in the comics and the animated TV specials; they actually seem to love the little people, and their performances are full of warmth.
Matt Hill makes a suitably pitiable Charlie Brown, and his singing voice, though suffering from strain the night I saw the show, is strong and friendly. Blanket-clutching Linus, younger but much smarter than his associates, is played by Casey Reeves, who seems a bit stiff at times but has a nice child-like demeanor that works well.
Matt Herrick (also music director) maintains good deadpan as the soft-spokenly aloof Schroeder, resisting the advances of Lucy, who is played with vigorous obnoxiousness by Marilee Spencer.
Lucy gets several opportunities to shine in this show, thanks to Spencer’s fine character voice, which is shrill and delightfully disconcerting. Songs like “Little Known Facts” and “The Doctor Is In” are notably whimsical.
I was skeptical of casting a woman as Snoopy, but Lesley Larsen brings a lot of sass to the role. Her delivery gets laughs from lines that, as written, are usually more cute than funny, and her “Suppertime” number is a showstopper.
Last but not least is Cyndi Ball as Patty. In the 1999 version, the rather non-descript Patty was replaced with the much more interesting Sally Brown. That version of the show was not available for performance yet, which is a shame, because Ball is diminutive and blond enough to be a perfect Sally. It’s clear someone agreed with that assessment: Even though she’s playing Patty, Ball has hair, costumes and attitude suitable for Sally. Pretend the character’s name is Sally and you’ll get a kick out of her.
The show often reminds us of the familiar TV cartoons — not just in costumes and sets (though they are great, thanks to Stuart Lewis and Rodney Elwood), but in the physicality of the characters, too. Observe the way Schroeder slumps when he plays his tiny piano, or the way everyone dances in a brief party scene. Subtle touches like that make the show seem less like another gig for six actors and a director, and more like a genuine labor of love.
The 1999 revision of this show closed on Broadway after only six months or so. I'm not sure why it wasn't able to gain an audience; it really was a great production.