Good grief! It's Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang in a delightful musical at Vilas Hall's Helmsley Theatre. You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown reminds us why we don't outgrow some things. Based on the popular comic strip created in the '60s by Charles M. Schulz, the show ran for ages on Broadway and survives today as a regional theater favorite. Charlie Brown is University Theatre's summer cabaret-style production - and that means lemonade and refills on the popcorn.
The action follows a day in the life of Charlie Brown as told in lickety-split vignettes that alternate short, snappy walk-ons with whimsical musical numbers. Charlie Brown's baseball team, Schroeder and his piano, and Snoopy and the Red Baron get a fresh bounce with breezy song-and-dance routines.
The set takes its cue from the funnies: There's a backdrop checkerboard of panels in cartoon colors, and the props are simply big, bright blocks - easily rearranged to suit whatever purpose: a doghouse, a grand piano or even a throne for Queen Lucy. Transitions are smooth, the pace doesn't falter, and director Tony Simotes' experienced cast (several Urinetown veterans) delivers an affectionate, cheerful family-friendly production.
Kathryn Premo earns top billing. She's terrific as Lucy - blithely wrongheaded whether she's handing out 5-cent psychiatric advice or taking Linus on a nature walk: Lucy: "That's called a fir tree, Linus. Because it gives us furs for fur coats."
Charlie Brown: "Good grief."
Joel Spiess has the difficult Charlie Brown role. As a foil for the other, more colorful, characters, hapless Charlie doesn't have many opportunities to shine. Spiess is at his best flying his kite in a scene that turns into a blissful, lyric dance by the whole ensemble. There's skillful solo dancing too: Linus (James Carrington), with his thumb firmly in mouth, waltzes his blanket à la Fred Astaire, and Snoopy (sure-footed Steve Wojtas) dazzles in a bravura "Suppertime" dance number that really takes the cake.
The small cast of six are all in good voice, but Andy White as Schroeder and Becky Chicoine as Charlie's little sister, Sally, are especially fine. Their collaboration singing "My Philosophy" is a treat.
In fact, You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, with its gentle humor set to music, is a treat altogether - and a welcome reprieve from trash-talking media moppets.