Charles Schulz, the creator of Peanuts, once said “You can’t create humor out of happiness.” Which may be why Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy, Schroeder, Linus and Sally are still popular 70 years after their comic strip first appeared. Schulz never treated them as punch lines, but as individuals with wisdom beyond their years in simple drawings with complex connotations.
That simplicity and complexity come to life on stage in 2nd Star Productions’ charming You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. The play first appeared in 1967 but the 1999 revival helped launch the Broadway career of Kristen Chenowith, who played Charlie Brown’s sister Sally.
The play is as simple as the comic strip, primarily a string of vignettes tagged to some clever songs. This production honors that simplicity with a basic black and white set by Jane Wingard that comes right out of the “funny papers.”
The charismatic crew is depicted by a talented sextet: Cory Jones as Charlie Brown; Victoria Rose Brown as Sally; Erin Branigan as Lucy; Michael Mathes as Schroeder; Andrew Wilson as Linus; and Reed Sigmon as Snoopy. The physical interpretations of their characters are spot-on, from Charlie Brown’s hunched shoulders and Lucy’s tight-fisted stomp to Sally’s jaunty skip and Snoopy’s joyous mealtime dance.
And, good grief, who needs a plot when we get to hear a constant parade of Peanuts wisdom via such wonderful characters? Jones’s Charlie Brown is a big lunk of a little kid beautifully infusing his character with such pathos that several times the opening night audience couldn’t help but exclaim “awwww” in empathy.
As Sally, Brown gives Chenowith a run for her money, and is especially captivating in My New Philosophy (“No. I like it! That’s my new philosophy!”). Branigan’s Lucy is as biting and blaring as ever, yet also appealing as she announces her version of life in Little Known Facts (“Clouds can make the wind blow, bugs can make the grass grow”). Mathes gives us a Schroeder whose enchantment with Beethoven is thoroughly palpable in Beethoven Day (“Call the principal and tell him the news, we got a holiday that he can’t refuse!”), and Wilson as Linus charms his way through My Blanket and Me, (“It’s a cozy sanctuary but it’s far from necessary …”), complete with a nice dance turn by Erin Culfogienis as the blanket.
Reed Sigmon in a preppy white sweater and slacks embodies everyone’s favorite beagle with a leading man’s charisma, whether he’s the World War I flying ace (“Curse you, Red Baron!) or just Charlie Brown’s dog (“Pleasant day, pretty sky, life goes on, here I lie”).
The voices are uniformly excellent, though on some early songs the five-piece band led by conductor Karen Monteith was noticeably unaligned with the singers, an opening night glitch that should be resolved as the run continues.
John Wakefield’s direction keeps things moving at a very nice clip, and Mary Wakefield’s costumes are the perfect reminder of what these characters looked like in the Sunday paper’s color comics.
2nd Star’s You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown is a comic delight that also gives us something to think about— just as Charlie Brown and his ageless pals have been doing for 70 years.
About two hours with one intermission; runs through February 22. Tickets $25 w/discounts, rsvp: 2ndstarproductions.com or 410-757-5700, 301-832-4819.