Production of 'Peanuts' play keeps traditional approach
By BARBARA L. FREDRICKSEN
© St. Petersburg Times,
Few shows have the universal appeal of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, a whimsical musical based on the late Charles Schultz's comic strip Peanuts. Kids love it for the familiar characters and situations; adults love it for its gentle reminders of childhood and insightful observations of life.
The show ran off-Broadway for more than four years before it moved to Broadway in 1967, where it played for 1,597 performances. Since then, Charlie Brown has become a favorite of school groups and community theaters.
Richey Suncoast Theatre's production runs weekends through Sept. 30.
Unlike some production companies that update the show, director Keith Cox has opted to do the show exactly as it was written in the early 1960s.
"I'm staying very traditional with the script," he said. "This is a tribute to Schultz, who, I think, was just a genius."
The musical depicts one day in the life of Charlie Brown. Like the Broadway version, Richey Suncoast will feature grown-up actors.
"We have a real strong ensemble for this cast," said Cox. "They work well together."
Regular Peanuts readers will recognize bossy Lucy (Leanne Germann), insecure Linus (Derek Baxter), musically inclined Schroeder (Ian Jurgensen), playful Snoopy (Amanda Smith), spunky Peppermint Patty (Hilary Caron) and, of course, Charlie Brown (Justin Sargent), who alternates between wild optimism and utter despair.
Those less familiar with the strip will soon get to know them and their ongoing rivalries and alliances through the series of little vignettes that make up the play.
In one vignette titled Schroeder, Lucy tries to convince shy Schroeder he should marry her. Another vignette, My Blanket and Me, shows Linus singing and dancing a paean to his favorite thing. Charlie laments his athletic ineptitude in The Kite. And Charlie, Lucy, Schroeder and Linus struggle through a homework assignment as they try to complete a 100-word essay on Peter Rabbit in The Book Report.
Later, we see Snoopy cavorting about as he celebrates another full dish at dinner and Charlie telling a pen pal about the chaotic events that happen during a Little League Baseball Game.
Cox returns to directing eight years after he directed the award-winning comedy Plaza Suite at Richey Suncoast in 1993. He has appeared in several shows at the theater, including the title role in Richard III in 1994 and, more recently, in A Midsummer Night's Dream and American Rock.
Musical director Joan Geschke was active at Richey Suncoast between 1974 and 1985, when she left theater to become a registered nurse. She retired in 1999 and says she is "delighted to return to RST and (my) first love, music."
The six members in the cast are all seasoned stage performers at Richey Suncoast and other venues. Sargent made his debut there as the Artful Dodger in Oliver and has played several roles since then. Ms. Smith played Hermia in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Jurgensen played the lead in last season's Barefoot in the Park, as well as several supporting roles in other productions. Baxter appeared in many Richey Suncoast productions several years ago, including Camelot, 42nd Street and Richard III. In recent years, he has been a dancer in the Magic Kingdom Parades at Walt Disney World. Ms. Caron co-starred in Barefoot; she is the president of the National Honor Society at Hudson High School.
Ms. Germann has won many acting and singing awards at Stage West Community Playhouse, where she has acted in Nunsense, Into the Woods, Victor/Victoria and was Lucy in Charlie Brown, among other parts.
The choreographer is Marie Skelton.
At a glance
WHAT: You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown
WHERE: Richey Suncoast Theatre, 6237 Grand Blvd., New Port Richey
WHEN: Today through Sunday, Sept. 21-23 and 28-30. Shows are at 8 p.m., except Sundays at 2:30 p.m.
TICKETS: $12, reserved seating. Box office is open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and an hour before each show. Call (727) 842-6777.
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