A BLANKET CAN BE A WORLD OF COMFORT - LANDMARK MUSICAL THEATRE OPENS THEIR NEW VENUE WITH A CLASSIC
YOU’RE A GOOD MAN CHARLIE BROWN IS ALWAYS A BLAST TO OUR YOUTH AND THE GREAT CHARLES M SCHULZ
Reviewed by Vince Mediaa and Xun Zhang
Welcome Charlie and his gang to Landmark Musicals first official production in their new SF Venue THE SUTTER STREET STAGE. This marks Landmark Musical Theatre seventh season in 2022, following the 18-month hiatus after closing its last pre-2021 production, in early March 2020. Many Bay Area local productions opened their lobby doors this past March weekend. YOU’RE A GOOD MAN CHARLIE BROWN is now on stage at the Landmark Theatre through April 10th.
Directed by Jon Rosen Artistic Director, brings a talented and expanded cast to this rousing production. The “Peanuts” comic strip was one of the iconic creations of the 20th century. This Landmark production brings the charm full throttle and keeps the enthusiastic actors busy for two hours. Watching the Peanuts Gang is like running into your old group of friends. The last thirty two years have treated them well, they haven't changed much since the late '60s. They're still obsessed with all the insecurities, doubts, and angst that is experienced in everyone’s childhood.
The simple and pureness remains the theme of the musical. Adults playing kids being simple and innocent while trying to be mature and complicated. It’s like in Shakespeare's play a male playing a female trying to be male. Our hero Charlie, played by the local favorite William Rhea, is on a quest for this red haired girl. Rhea has that ordinary charm. Being the lead yet still having to maintain normality is hard but he did a terrific job holding the level just right. He’s that every man character that ties everyone together. A totally different character from that foot spelling teen from Spelling Bee we last saw him in. Rhea is a super star company player for Landmark Musical theatere, he definitely holds it down. His featured number “The Kite” is well done as he maintains the boyhood mannerisms that keep the number cute.
The engrossing Meredith Fox is the iconic Lucy, and is a very impressive actor. She brought a lot of energy to the cast. Fox defines the beauty of stage movement. Her voice acting - over enunciating every word, Shakespeare style. Fox enjoys every single second on stage. She is not just saying her lines, running her blocking, portraying a character, she is having a blast. If You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown has any social relevance, emotional significance, then this brief, golden moment - when we are given permission to be ourselves, faults and all, sets the tone for this show. When I read these comic strips during the heyday of Peanuts, the scene with Lucy in the psychiatrist booth “The Doctor Is In” always brings back a lot of memories.
The adorable Johann Santos plays scene stealer Snoopy. His dance number “Suppertime” stopped the show. The versatility of the actor, the dance choreography, the singing, the lyrics, all really impressed the audience with a powerful tsunami wave trademarked Broadway USA. Even my international friend was doing jazz hands after watching this number. Why is he good? First of all, he is confident. Playing a little dog, most people might feel discouraged but he enjoyed every second of it. No matter if it's a bark, or a dog sitting, he shows his joy. Santos makes Snoopy more like a human but in a dog way. You won’t feel like this actor is doing an excellent job playing a dog, instead you will be amazed how he makes Snoopy into a human. The keen Eriette Aranante as Sally really shows naiveness to the audience. Her soft and high pitch kid voice increases the child level and makes people want to spoil her. Sally in her coat hanger monologue is very funny and her song “My New Philosophy” is a highlight of the show.
The skilled Ryan Liu is cast as the thumb sucking Linus and is accentuated in the wonderfully choreographed “My Blanket and Me”. Choreographer Elizabeth Rislove Etler uses Liu's charming moves with his baby blue blanket to keep the blanket as one of the characters in the song. Etler has the treat of working with a larger cast of Peanuts characters for many of her dance numbers. Since it’s a small stage with 8 people dancing in “Beethoven Day”, the cast is dancing, crossing each other in perfect timing. We can easily tell it was meticulously calculated.
Paul Hogarth plays a perfect piano loving Schroeder, the Beethoven impresario that Lucy loves. Hogarth delivers his charismatic portrayal of the very funny young genius sitting alongside his piano. Hogarth is the best at enunciating words. When he walks around saying how Beethoven had a certain childhood. You can see the desire for art in his eyes. Schroeder is the most stable and mature character of the bunch. If his take on the role is occasionally a bit too intense, his performance comes into its own in Andrew Lippa's two new songs, "Beethoven Day" and "My New Philosophy."
Other players in the cast include Willow Mae as "Violet" and Curtis Pollard as "Shermy." They helped make the scenes memorable especially in the larger production numbers like the inspired lunacy of the "Chasing Rabbits" sequence/ “The Book Report”, “The Baseball Game”, and the hilarious “Glee Club Rehearsal”.
The clever production team is stellar. Musical Director Christopher Hewitt sits on stage and of course he’s playing the main piano throughout the musical with David Simon on Reeds and Doug Lippi on drums. The live music can be a separate show. Richard Gutierrez polished costume choices on all the characters are wonderful especially Lucy, a blue blouse is her signature outfit . Charlie Brown's iconic yellow shirt with black patterns is classic blockhead. Snoopy’s costume, just a simple white turtleneck and black pants is such a good abstract representation for the little white dog. Director Jon Rosen designed the simple set and colorful lighting design at just the right mood for a childhood memory. The little piano that Shroeder plays is campy and perfect. Stage Manager Emma Gifford kept the busy cast on que.
Rosen’s direction has a taste of buttery popcorn and sweet childhood moments - that are most importantly comforting. I can easily see the professionalism in the director’s touch. No matter in choreography, line delivery, stage movements or emotional expression, everything is done clean cut, clear and direct.
The challenge of Charlie Brown these days is what made the original production so appealing. It is whimsical, with little more to its credit than a handful of jokes and 16 fun and entertaining songs. There is no plot as such, just simply a series of vignettes which are little more than set-ups for character based musical numbers. As Charlie Brown expresses what makes him happy, everyone is touched by his love of life in the closing number “Happiness”. Charlie realizes that being a "good man" means trying your best and making the most of the things you've been given in life. Lucy walks over and she shakes his hand firmly, then tells him, "You're a good man, Charlie Brown” - a perfect culmination to this heart-warming show.
This Landmark Musical production is well done and sweet. It brings back many fond memories of seeing this show over the years. This is a great cast and will generate a new audience for Charlie Brown and his Gang as you share this comic strip musical adaptation with your family.
Landmark Musical Theatre Presents
YOU’RE A GOOD MAN,
The Family Musical
Based on the comic strip “PEANUTS”
By Charles M Schultz
Book, Music and Lyrics by Clark Gesner
Directed by Jon Rosen
Musical Director Christopher Hewitt
MUST CLOSE APRIL 10th
533 Sutter Street Stage
San Fran Ca
Running time 2 hours + intermission
Tickets at https://www.landmarkmusicals.com/