The comic strip’s classic characters take to musical theatre to convince us — with a whole lot of humor and charm — that there’s always an upside. You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown runs through June 19 at Village Theatre in Everett.
The best part of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown is the title character’s younger sister, Sally, but in some ways it’s not even a fair fight. She gets the funniest, catchiest song (“My New Philosophy”), an assertive-yet-adorable personality that matches her shockingly pink dress, and, in Village Theatre’s production on now, a portrayal by Arika Matoba that’s tailor-made for the role. Matoba’s Sally is a handful for any teacher: argumentative but adorable, inquisitive yet demanding, and all-but-impossible to get mad at.
The pint-sized character’s personality looms large over the production, but the rest of the cast holds their own to form this quirky and musical world that, like the Peanuts did, finds the noteworthy among the humdrum (and vice versa).
It’s a balance of hope and negativity that feels right with the world right now. Take, for example, this exchange between Charlie Brown and the blanket-toting but ever-philosophical Linus Van Pelt:
This was going to be our big year
The year when it looked like we might even score our first run …
I think it would be kind of fun to win once in a while.
Look at it this way, Charlie Brown
We learn more from losing than we do from winning.
I guess that makes me the smartest person in the whole world.
You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown started off as an album of “inspired-by” original songs by Clark Gesner that turned into a musical, premiering off-Broadway in 1967; the show was reworked, with additional songs by Andrew Lippa, in a 1999 Broadway revival. It’s delivered in skits, many of them quick glimpses of the title character’s iconic failures, in baseball, kite-flying (so easy even his dog can do it), and football-kicking (thwarted again by Lucy Van Pelt). It adds on the classic indignity of paying Lucy a nickel, under the guise of “psychiatric help,” to catalog his failings in a presentation (“See what I’ve done? I’ve put all your faults on slides. We’re going to project your faults onto a screen”). Its central character is one well-versed in his own limitations (“I’ve developed a new philosophy. I only dread one day at a time”).
But the point of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown isn’t his failures — it’s how he operates in spite of them. No matter how many times he falls on his face, he keeps trying; usually it’s against his better judgment, whether that’s trusting his frienemy Lucy not to pull back the football, or reluctantly raising his hand to volunteer for a challenge (“My hand won’t go up. My hand is smarter than I am”).
And people respect him for it. Whether in the enjoyably compact musical skits here or in the more fully fleshed-out storylines of the animated films, Charlie Brown is trusted to do the right thing, looked to as a leader, and, at the end of the day, universally loved. The title musical number features the company coming together to affirm him through song.
The comic strip’s robust lineup of characters is slimmed down to six for the show: Charlie Brown (played by Rafael Molina), his sister Sally (Matoba), Lucy Van Pelt (Joell Weil), her brother Linus (UJ Mangune), Schroeder (Charles L. Simmons), and Charlie’s dog Snoopy (Jason Weitkamp). While maintaining their individuality from the originals, they’re a cross-section of characters that can convey the key bits of their world. And of course there’s the indecipherable, crackling offstage voice from the cartoons, which is all you need to know about adults in the world of the Peanuts; the grown-ups are outside forces occasionally acting down upon them, and otherwise irrelevant.
Where the kids have all the agency, how well will the grown-up actors playing them convey it? Impressively well, in Village’s staging. Under direction of Jimmy Shields, the cast here creates a world that’s unmistakably Charles Schulz’s world-wise and -weary characters.
In the title role, Rafael Molina presents a perfect round-faced blockhead, conscientious to a fault. In a character that can quickly go sad (with hot takes like “I don’t think it’s good for a team to see their manager cry”), Molina’s portrayal balances out the despair with just the right willingness to plod along and keep the group afloat with him.
Alongside Charlie Brown, the youngest characters get leading personalities here. Linus Van Pelt, thoughtful and philosophical, sucks his thumb and clings tightly to a safety blanket, toting it around everywhere (“This blanket is a necessity. It keeps me from cracking up. It could be regarded as a spiritual tourniquet”). UJ Mangune’s portrayal captures beautifully that balance, both babyish and bright. Linus isn’t afraid of his difference. Mangune’s portrayal could be both embarrassed and embarrassing, but it’s neither.
Sally Brown, whose personality emerges little in the comics and films, has a ton of it here. It’s a fitting challenge for Arika Matoba, seen most recently as a very cute Chip in The 5th Avenue Theatre’s wonderful Beauty and the Beast, directed by Jay Woods, but her role there was basically the face of magical dishware. The Sally here is a much more demanding character — as in, she’s always demanding something. Whether lamenting the unfairness of it all (“Don’t tell me my life isn’t a Shakespearean tragedy!”) or proclaiming her latest new outlook (“My New Philosophy”), Matoba’s bombastic Sally is a hit of the show.
Joell Weil’s Lucy Van Pelt is a perfect counterweight to Charlie Brown: bossy, brash, and self-assured — especially when she’s wrong (“Little Known Facts”). Her Lucy portrayal blends in some of the confident ease of Peppermint Patty, a character missing from the original lineup, into the sort of adversary who might throw you off kilter but is never mean-spirited (much).
Charles L. Simmons’ Schroeder is focused, with a cool sort of nerdiness. He’s most interested in sharing the joy of his favorite composer (“Beethoven Day”), but he’ll go toe-to-toe with Sally (“My New Philosophy”) even as he’s tuning out Lucy’s adoration. Turns out his biggest connection isn’t on stage, but in the pit: playfully ambiguating the fourth wall, he nods confidently to music director, conductor, and pianist R.J. Tancioco, who’s clearly having fun with this show.
And Jason Weitkamp’s Snoopy is goofy, imaginative, and expressive, whether he’s off in his own world fighting the Red Baron or languishing of starvation until Charlie plops the food bowl in front of him.
It may be a bit of comedic fluff, but Charlie Brown‘s style is right for the current mood. Surrounded by failure, it’s good to hope for what’s better. And who better to remind us of that in comic form than the kids who have been doing so for decades?
You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown runs through 6/19 at Village Theatre in Everett (Everett Performing Arts Center). Tickets are $47-$81, available here. Accessibility notes: restrooms are gendered and multi-stall. Theatre and common areas are wheelchair accessible. Financial accessibility notes: $20 rush tickets for Section B seats available to all, one hour before showtime, at all shows; pay-what-you-choose tickets available to all at certain performances. See details here. (Everett PWYC dates are: 6/4 matinee, 6/9 matinee, 6/15 night, 6/18 night.)
Chase D. Anderson is Editor & Producer of NWTheatre.org.