Review: “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” in Novato

In the pantheon of great American musicals, one would be hard-pressed to find Clark Gesner’s You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown on the list.  What began as a concept album in 1966 soon transmogrified into a very successful off-Broadway show that never really cut it on Broadway. Its first run in 1971 lasted less than a month, and its 1999 revival closed one week after winning two Tony Awards for its featured performances.

Nevertheless, its simple staging and audience familiarity with the source material have made it a staple of community theatres. The Novato Theater Company brings it to their Playhouse stage in a Michael Ross-directed production that runs through April 28.  

There’s no plot of which to speak, just a series of vignettes featuring the beloved characters from the Charles Schulz strip. The daily tribulations of Charlie Brown (Robert Nelson), Linus (Lorenzo Alviso), Lucy (Tika Moon), Sally (Julianne Thompson Bretan), Schroeder (Paul Hogarth), and Snoopy (Jake Gale) are set to Gesner’s pleasant but mostly unmemorable music and lyrics. (NTC is apparently using the 1999 revival version of the show but curiously omits any mention of composer Andrew Lippa’s contributions in the show’s program.)    

Robert Nelson, Tika Moon

Familiar “Peanuts” territory is covered with bits about Charlie Brown’s pining for the little red-headed girl, Linus’s blanket, Lucy’s Psychiatrist booth, Sally’s school troubles, Schroeder’s love of Beethoven, and Snoopy’s battle with the Red Baron.

Ross’s cast is uneven. Nelson, a usually reliable musical-comedy performer, misses the mark as Charlie Brown, coming off as more of a whiner and complainer than the melancholy, gentle-hearted, resilient character we’ve come to know. Moon needs to find more variation in her delivery for Lucy.

Alviso hits the mark as the philosophical Linus, whose asides are a frequent source of amusement. Hogarth has fun with “Beethoven Day” – one of the show’s better musical numbers – and Thompson Bretan makes for a feisty Sally. Gale, whose take on Snoopy as the smartest “person” in the room is an interesting one, delivers the show’s high point with his spirited delivery of “Suppertime”.  

Musical director Lucas Sherman and his five-piece orchestra do well by the music, and the cast, though uneven in character, are consistent with good vocal delivery. 

The simple, functional set by Michael Walraven is aided enormously by the colorful scenic artistry of Kristy Arroyo and her recreations of Schulz’s comic strip panels.

Affection for Schulz’s creation aside, in the end You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown is as two-dimensional as one of the strips.

’You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown’ runs Friday–Sunday through April 28 at the Novato Theater Company, 5420 Nave Drive, Ste. C, Novato. Friday–Saturday, 8pm; Sunday, 2pm. $18–$30. 415.883.4498. novatotheatercompany.org.

Photos by Fred Deneau

This review originally ran in an edited version in the Pacific Sun.

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