Happiness is watching ‘Peanuts’ gang onstage
I don’t remember when my love affair with Charles Schulz’s Peanuts gang began. Perhaps it’s when I got a Peanuts dictionary when I was 6, as that is my earliest recollection of Charlie Brown, Lucy, Snoopy, Linus and the rest of this gaggle of preschooler cartoon characters.
I faithfully followed the comic strip in the papers as I grew up, watched the holiday specials on TV (I’ve since downloaded everything I could find on iTunes), even had a Peanuts screen saver on my computer.
Back when I was 10 and Gerard was around 7 or 8, we recorded the song “Happiness” for one of my early albums. The line “Happiness is having a sister” especially resonated with us.
So it was such a wonderful evening at the theater to watch six members of the Peanuts gang come to life in the musical “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown.” The group – Charlie Brown (Robbie Guevara), Lucy (Carla Guevara-Laforteza), Linus (Franco Laurel), Sally (Sweet Plantado-Tiongson), Schroeder (Tonipet Gaba) and Snoopy (Lorenz Martinez) – personified their alter egos perfectly. I can’t say that I’ve seen a show more perfectly cast, and typecast!
The musical, directed by Michael Williams and choreographed by Deana Aquino, went at a nice pace. Seeing Charlie Brown dejected again and again (by a tree-eating kite, over a baseball game, and his own self-doubts and insecurity) was touching and very moving.
Lucy is crabbiness personified. But she has a soft spot for Schroeder, the piano player whose existence seems to hinge on his hero, Ludwig van Beethoven. I remember one comic strip where Lucy smashes a Beethoven bust in a fit: Schroeder calmly grabs another one from a nearby Beethoven-bust-stacked closet and continues playing the piano.
Sally (the role that won Kristin Chenoweth a Tony Award), could almost out-crab Lucy. Sally is feisty and outspoken for what she believes in, but is undone by her nemesis, her jumping rope. It’s amazing how this character can turn an inanimate object into one filled with life.
My daughter Nicole related the most to Linus, the thumb-sucking boy whose intelligence matches his passion for his beloved blue blanket.
Finally, there is Snoopy – the hyper-imaginative beagle. This dog puts on a production number every suppertime, showing just how important mealtime is, much to the chagrin of his master, Charlie Brown.
I don’t think I’ve seen Robbie better than here. Not that I’ve found him less effective in other roles… but he lends an appropriate self-awareness and maturity to Charlie Brown.
We’ve all identified with this character at various points in our lives, especially when something doesn’t go well. We hold hope for him, and thus, for ourselves. Robbie captured that.
Carla is always wonderful, whatever she does, and this is no exception. It’s not her first time, either, to play a little girl (the last time was as Olive Ostrovsky in “Spelling Bee”), but certainly no one this cranky!
She was perfectly crabby, but never one-dimensional in her portrayal. Her flirtation with Schroeder was so much fun to watch, including the iconic pose of leaning against the piano, and her psychiatric session with Charlie Brown lent insight into her intelligence.
Franco as Linus was incredibly sweet, much like the actor. Always ready to spout some stroke of intellectual genius, thumb in mouth, but never, ever prepared to part with his blanket. It was fun watching Franco dance a pas de deux with the blanket, but I regret not hearing more of his singing voice, which is just so magical.
Sweet as Sally was a revelation. I don’t think I’d seen her doing a principal role in theater – besides being one fifth of The CompanY – so this was such a treat. She can sing, dance and act with so much commitment. “My New Philosophy” was a highlight, especially with the line, “Why are you telling me?”
The arguments (over a substandard grade) with Sally’s teacher, Miss Othmar –and hearing that signature wah-wah reply – were too funny! The fact that Sally can back each argument is even funnier.
Tonipet was a lovely Schroeder – hunched over the piano, possessing such passion for music, even losing himself when conducting “Home on the Range,” oblivious that all his friends had left him alone with Snoopy.
I found that I lost Schroeder’s voice at times though, especially in his big number near the end of Act I. That aside, he was a perfect foil for Lucy in her less-than-sweet moments.
The scene-stealer award should go to Lorenz as Snoopy, however. I always knew he was talented, but I don’t think his gifts have been on full display as they are here. “Suppertime” was a great song and dance number, a true celebration of this special time of day, and him on the roof flying his Sopwith Camel made me laugh. Hard.
I’m sad that the run has ended, but here’s hoping for a rerun of this sweet, happy show. Congratulations!
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