There is so much happiness in the Buck Creek Players’ production of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” that it’s hard to know where to begin.
Steven R. Linville makes his Buck Creek Players directorial debut with a musical that brings to life all the iconic characters from Charles Schultz’ long-running Peanuts comic strip. The play tightly pulls in all the recurring Peanuts themes — baseball, Charlie Brown’s pen pal, Snoopy as the World War I flying ace, Charlie Brown’s travails with his kite, Linus and his blanket, Lucy’s five-cents-an-appointment psychiatric advice and Charlie Brown’s crush on the little red-haired girl — and blends them together into a family-friendly delight.
The Peanuts characters are so much more than two-dimensional pen and ink drawings. Linville’s ensemble cast fulfills that vision and then some, addressing not only childhood’s serious concerns, but some heavy-duty thoughtful topics along the way.
Cast member Scott Robinson, a native of New Palestine, is all of 42 years old, but those years fall away as he inhabits the character of Charlie Brown, 6-year-old philosopher and thinker of deep thoughts. Though Charlie Brown faces perpetual discouragement, Robinson’s face and his look of round-eyed wonder attest to the eternal optimist that he is.
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Stacia Hulen is perfectly cast as the difficult character of Lucy. She found and held the fine thin line between know-it-all big sister and shrill, bossy bully. A challenge facing many musical theater actors is the ability to carry their characters over into the musical numbers; Hulen was Lucy through every note.
Jessica Bartley, adorable as the slightly pigeon-toed, lock-kneed little sister Sally, proves that being able to walk and chew gum at the same time is child’s play compared to being able to jump rope and deliver lines simultaneously.
Jonathan Krouse fully captures the animated Snoopy’s laugh, and his assorted off-to-the-side dog noises did not go unnoticed.
Greenfield’s Scott Fleshood as pianst Schroeder, fooled this reviewer, who thought he was really playing the piano, as he expertly mimed his way through Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” at the miniature grand piano. His gestures were perfectly timed with musical director Matthew Tippel’s actual piano-playing with the pit orchestra.
Dan Denniston’s representational set looks as if it was lifted right from the Sunday comics page — the red dog house, the brick wall, the mailbox, the back of the school bus and the oversized chair — all brightly painted and outlined in black.
Costumed to perfection by Donna Jacobi, the Peanuts characters are instantly recognizable: Lucy in her blue dress and saddle shoes, Linus (Jacob Peterman) with his blanket, Sally in pink, Schroeder in purple and Charlie Brown in his trademark yellow and black zigzag t-shirt.
And there was no mistaking the human-sized Woodstock (Emma Wilson) for Big Bird. I’d recognize that topknot of yellow feathers anywhere.
The two-hour show moves well. Many of the scenes are made up of the short, clever quips the Peanuts gang is known for, but lighting designer Joanne Johnson’s light-off/lights-on transitions happen quickly.
Tippel’s piano accompaniment deserves a nod and a smile for the smooth flow from light jazz to vocal accompaniment to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and back again with some of the familiar riff from the Peanuts’ animated television specials thrown in for good measure.
The one off-note in the show has nothing to do with performances or production values. The somewhat bizarre dance ballad between Linus (Jacob Peterman) and Emma Wilson dressed as a human blanket comes off as a little creepy.
Kids will love this show simply because they get to witness adults skipping, jumping, wrestling around and engaging in kid situations. Adults will love it because it hearkens back to a much simpler time in the lives of people and the life of the world.
“You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” does what all good theater is meant to do: it allows us to escape, for two short hours, from the grown-up stresses of 2017. We can return to a time when, as the final song in the show says, happiness was two kinds of ice cream, catching a firefly or tying your shoes for the very first time. “Happiness is anyone and anything at all that’s loved by you.” You’ll love this show. Bring the family, enjoy and remember.
“You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” plays through Feb. 12 at the Buck Creek Playhouse, 11150 Southeastern Ave. Friday and Saturday performances are at 8 p.m. Sunday matinees are at 2:30 p.m. To make reservations, visit buckcreekplayers.com.