By Addison Herron-Wheeler (OUT FRONT Magazine)
We’ve now heard this a million times, but the past year-and-a-half has been incredibly tough on the theatre community. Like other entertainment industries, it was virtually destroyed by COVID, with any remaining shows moving online entirely for a livestreamed experience.
Now, as the world is finally getting vaccinated and opening back up, shows are slowly returning, and one of them is Town Hall Arts Center’s You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown.
For those still not fully vaccinated, or just feeling a little squirmy about the idea of going back to in-person shows, put your worry at rest. Town Hall has done an amazing job of making things safe. The actors, who have to undergo regular COVID testing, are encased in a glass box on the stage. While this may sound odd, it doesn’t impact visibility or sound. There is still a live band, nestled to the side of the stage and all wearing masks, and you can still feel the energy coming from the performance and get that live theatre feel, instead of the livestream blues.
There are also plenty of precautions in place when it comes to the audience. Shows are smaller capacity in order to make sure parties can distance from other parties, and exiting the theatre is done safely, in shifts.
COVID precautions aside, the show itself is also wonderful. For those familiar with the classic musical, there aren’t really any surprises or new twists, but each of the characters is warm, funny, philosophical, and engaging, just as they are intended to be. Probably because live theatre has been missing for so long, and the actors are so excited to get back in the spotlight, each performer seems to be throwing themselves 110 percent into what they are doing to tell a compelling and timeless story.
Similarly, the stage accommodations don’t do anything to diminish an amazing, stand-out, set and scenery. While the set is simple and childlike, intentionally, of course, the bright colors in the costumes and set pieces weave seamlessly in with the story, and you get some cool lighting effects and even a kite that really flies.
If you’re itching for some live theatre done safely, make sure to catch You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown at Town Hall Arts Center in Littleton, Thursday through Sunday and running through April 18.
By Sonya Ellingboe (Littleton Independent)
Audience members were scattered sparsely around Town Hall Arts Center and the stage is wrapped with a plastic barrier, but it was indeed a joy to settle in for a live performance last weekend as pianist Donna Debreceni and percussionist Sean Case played the opening music for “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” at Littleton’s Town Hall Arts Center.
Centered on stage, we see a large red doghouse as lights go up and we welcome Charles M. Schulz’s beloved crew, who first showed up in October 1950 in the syndicated comic strip, “Peanuts.”
American cartoonist and Peanuts creator Schulz (1922-2000) was born in Minneapolis and lived and worked for years in Santa Rosa, California, where a museum honors his memory.
My concerns about whether that barrier would affect the sound were gone immediately as the cast moved into a series of vignettes from the beloved Schulz comic strip. With book, music and lyrics by Clark Gesner, additional dialogue by Michael Mayer, additional music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa, this musical, based on what was probably the most famous comic strip of all, is a charmer.
Carter Edward Smith, looking suitably bewildered in his yellow shirt with the black zigzag on it, plays Charlie Brown on a stage he last played on three years ago, while Brekken Baker is bouncy, bossy Lucy Van Pelt, in her first appearance at THAC.
(An old lemonade stand serves as the office for her psychiatric services — 5 cents, please!)
Widely-traveled Mica Dominguez-Robinson appears as Charlie’s little sister, Sally Brown, and Andrew Alber, who appeared in “Cabaret” at THAC, plays Lucy’s blanket-toting little brother, Linus.
THAC regular Matt LaFontaine, who recently appeared as Monty in the virtual Town Hall production of “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” is philosophical pianist Schroeder, while Logan Traver, also a former “Cabaret” cast member, wears a white suit with a big black spot on his back and reclines on a bright red doghouse — that lovable Snoopy, of course! (He too was in the large “Cabaret” cast.)
He flies with the Red Baron and worries a lot about his supper, which does arrive, of course. Sweet performance.
Expert director Nick Sugar (“Cabaret” Director and Emcee} has returned to direct and choreograph this whimsical work, delivering his usual polished production, despite minimal set pieces and the constraints of a clear wall between cast and audience. The play, originally produced in 1967, does not include some characters who appeared later in the strip. But we certainly can enjoy this crew as we picture Schulz’s whimsical little guys and girls …
The “Happiness” song is perhaps best remembered, but none of the songs ever took on a life of its own like some musical numbers have. Schulz published a book called “Happiness is a Warm Puppy.”
The musical is said, in a review we found, to be based on the cartoonist’s own life — he had a dog as a kid.
Schulz won numerous awards during his lifetime and a posthumous congressional Gold Medal awarded the year after he died. He left a body of work that has indeed become part of America’s cultural fabric.
By Beki Pineda
YOU’RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN – Book, Music and Lyrics by Clark Gesner based on the comic strip by Charles M. Schultz; Directed by Nick Sugar. Produced by Town Hall Arts Center (2450 West Main, Littleton) through April 18. Tickets available at 303-794-2787 or townhallartscenter.org.
You’re a good man, Nickie Sugar, for bringing this nostalgic valentine to childhood into our lives at a time when we all long for the “good ‘ol days.” You knew just what would make us smile, remember, and rejoice that here we are again in a live theatre watching live actors perform together in their own bubble (or, in this case, fishbowl) with other audience members sitting two or three seats away from us. Good for Town Hall as well for arranging all of this and making us feel as safe as observers at an aquarium.
Designed as a comic strip with short vignettes enhanced with music, the whimsical script explores the highs and lows of childhood. From a D on your homework to the successful flight of a kite. From the terror of first love to the affection of a big sister. Playing baseball together and playing with your dog. All of these and many more fun memories are played out for our enjoyment. Carter Edward Smith uses his “dopey” vibe (remember Seymour?) to great effect as the sometime clueless Charlie Brown. His unfulfilled yearning for the Little Red-Headed Girl brings back nostalgic longing for your own first loves. Like the puppets in AVENUE Q, Charlies is on a search for happiness and what makes a “good man”. One conclusion that he very wisely comes to is that if he can find happiness for himself, he can then help others find their own happiness.
Charlie’s high flying dog, Snoopy, is given an energetic portrayal by Logan Traver as he chases the Red Baron and frolics through the musical numbers. He describes a dog’s life and decides he’s got it pretty easy. Until someone forgets to feed him. Who among us as we struggle to give up cigarettes or sugar cannot relate to Little Brother Linus as he tries to rid himself of his security blanket. We watch as he throws it on the ground and walks away . . . . and then desperately runs back to collect it. Andrew Alber makes that struggle real, painful and humorous – all at the same time. Matt LaFontaine brings his bouncy charm to the role of Schroeder, the virtuoso on a toy piano who perfects the definition of aloofness as Lucy attempts to coerce him into a relationship. He even manages to pull together a celebration of Beethoven’s birthday.
The women in the cast also play an important role. Lucy is given obnoxious charm by Brekken Baker while Little Sister Sallie comes to life with the help of Mica Dominguez-Robinson. Lucy’s unrequited affection for Schroeder leads her to finally conclude “Never try to discuss marriage with a musician!” Sallie becomes thoroughly disgusted with a D she got on her homework and uses it as an excuse to create an ever changing philosophy for handling disappointment.
Happily Town Hall has managed to hang on to their top notch crew of technicians. They have created the safe environment in which the actors can perform and the audience can watch with security. The plexiglass shields which circle the stage space create the slightest little distraction because of the occasional reflections on the inner sides. It made me wonder if the cast was watching themselves perform or if they could see through the reflections to the audience. The crew also deserves kudos for the “Kite Gag.” Charlie Brown tries to fly his kite around the notorious kite-eating tree. He successfully gets it aloft, enjoys his few minutes of triumph before the kite starts to fly away and then finally explodes. This difficult special effect was performed flawlessly by all involved. Even though it sounds like a full show band, the on-line program gives musical credit to only Donna Kolpan Debrecini on keyboards and Sean Case on percussion. All I can say is WOW! Good job, everyone.
A WOW factor of 8.5!!