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.