By BARBARA L. FREDRICKSEN
© St. Petersburg Times, published September 15, 2001
For about two hours on Thursday, the opening night audience for You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown at Richey Suncoast Theatre could put the horror of New York City and Washington, D.C., in the backs of their minds and bask in the warm sunshine of childhood innocence, albeit make-believe childhood innocence.
Even those of us who felt slightly uncomfortable chuckling and laughing at a time like this could cherish the sweet sentiments of the show and appreciate the outstanding performances of director Keith Cox's well-chosen cast and music director Joan Geschke's strong three-piece combo.
Charlie Brown, based on Charles Schulz's comic strip Peanuts, gives us the familiar crowd of kids -- Lucy (Leanne Germann), Linus (Derek Baxter), Schroeder (Ian Jurgensen), Peppermint Patty (Hilary Caron), Snoopy (Amanda Smith), and, of course, Charlie (Justin Sargent).
Playwright-composer Clark Gesner's adaptation shows one day in the life of the Peanuts gang in a series of vignettes that have the feel of four-frame daily strips with an occasional multipanel Sunday story. The minimal set -- a dog house, a tiny piano, a simple box that serves as a bench -- lets the audience concentrate on the characters. Cox's lighting design changes the play's mood as much as any complicated set could.
Finely tuned characterizations by grownups doing kids help even those who don't read the comic strip understand the hierarchy of Peanuts land. Ms. Germann flounces around the stage, making sure that everyone knows Lucy is the boss. Baxter's Linus, Lucy's little brother, is dreamily wise beyond his years, showing his vulnerability as he dances around the stage in pure joy in My Blanket and Me.
Jurgensen's Schroeder is shy, but determined to resist Lucy's romantic advances. Ms. Smith's Snoopy is always good for comic relief, and Ms. Caron's Peppermint Patty provides the grace notes for the longer segments.
Charlie, of course, is the glue that holds the gang together, and Sargent portrays him with low-key charm.
Each player works well alone, but the highlights are their moments together, thanks to Cox's deft direction, which keeps the tempo just right and the timing right on the mark. The Book Report with Lucy, Linus, Schroeder and Charlie trying to think of 100 words to say about Peter Rabbit is a classic, and this cast does it to a fine turn.
The show is greatly enhanced by virtuoso trumpeter Henry Fletcher's hot licks and pianist Joan Geschke's flawless playing. Toss in percussionist Marvin Lovett, and you have the best musical accompaniment that Richey Suncoast has seen in a long time.
It's unlikely that this or any other play will make anyone forget the country's anguish, but perhaps You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown can provide the fresh and wholesome respite we all need right now.
You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, a musical in two acts, at Richey Suncoast Theatre, 6237 Grand Blvd., New Port Richey, weekends through Sept. 30. Performances are at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $12, reserved seating. Box office is open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays and an hour before each show. Call (727) 842-6777.