Blue Heron’s “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown” is Pure Pleasure

Clarification: The characterization of Steve Visser’s acting should have read: “Steve Visser perfectly captured Charlie Brown’s hangdog attitude.”  Reviewer Helen S. Bas regrets the misstated description and truly enjoyed Visser’s excellent performance.

Reviewed by Helen S. Bas

Musical theater is a complicated venture, especially for a young theater troupe. Last night, Blue Heron Theatre Company’s first jump into that medium proved they are up to the task.

You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown opened last night to a decent, appreciative crowd. A small orchestra led by Kosta Kapellas, who played electric bass and string bass, set the mood with Vince Guaraldi’s “Linus and Lucy.”

While not part of this musical, Guaraldi’s song is perhaps the one most widely associated with Charles Schulz’s Peanuts gang. It in fact was written before You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, which was created — book, music and lyrics — by Clark Gesner and opened on Broadway in 1967.

Guaraldi aside, though, the music throughout the production is delightful, accompanying the gang though their various antics. Fans of Schulz’s comic strip will recognize that the characters shine through. The cast of adults pulled off the six-year-old characters hilariously. Steve Visser as Charlie Brown was hangdog as usual, with Snoopy (Michael Cavin) rollicking around, especially in his alter ego as the World War I flying ace hot on the trail of the Red Baron.

Lucy (Kortnee Henski) was a hoot. Crabby, shrieking, she leaped around the stage, screaming and periodically fixing one of the others with a look that could curdle your blood. Her brother, Linus, was his usual thumb-sucking, blanket-carrying self. Allison Walz captured him exactly.

Charlie Brown’s sister, Sally (Savannah Damoth), was as self-centered and philosophical as she could be. Her periodic temper tantrums were a riot. Rounding out the cast were Woodstock (Jon’Tise Samuels), Violet (Cassidy Van Gilder), Franklyn (Brian Herbert) and the little red-haired girl, Taleena Lynn Williams who also played Frieda.

Last, but certainly not least, was Schroeder, Lucy’s piano-playing love interest. Claire Hardy was set to play the part, but a last-minute illness left the character uncovered. Brad Varner, who was to play the nonspeaking (in this production) Pig Pen, took over with literally a couple of hours’ practice.

Varner, who out of necessity wore his Pig Pen costume, had never played the part before, yet came on without a script and did a stupendous job. He wasn’t an understudy, but knew the part fairly well from exposure.

“I sang along with all the songs during rehearsals, and I just kind of got to know it,” Varner said after the performance. He admitted to a certain amount of anxiety. “It was stressful. My heart was pounding. But I thought I was okay without the script.” Indeed he was.

The production is a combination of musical numbers and skits in between. The plot is simply a day in the life of Charlie Brown, showing the various activities that the gang goes through. School, Valentine’s Day, the dreaded kite, a baseball game, suppertime, Lucy’s crabbiness survey — all are depicted with childlike humor and adult-like insight. It’s two hours of pure pleasure. Blue Heron Theatre Company nailed this one. Accolades to directors Joe Mishler and Brian Catton, and a pleasant time to everyone who attends the production.

You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown is playing at the Carl Richter Campus Auditorium, 920 Baird St., Holly. The musical continues tonight and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for students and seniors, and $8 for children under 10. They can be purchased at the Holly Township Library or by calling 810-931-7108.

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