There was something just so comforting as a child, flicking through my parents’ newspaper, and finding Charles M. Schulz’s Peanuts comic strip or changing TV channels to luckily catch its animated series adaptation.
I have been familiar with Snoopy, Charlie Brown, and his friends growing up and was surprised to learn that Stagebugs Productions had put on the Tony Award winning musical You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown in Melbourne, currently playing at the Alex Theatre.
Those that have read the Peanuts comic strips will know that although cute and fun, they have no real plot. Instead, they are fun little segments that focus on the delightful characters we’ve come to know and love, with the musical following suit.
Directed by Cameron O’Reilly, with music direction by Matthew Nutley and choreographed by Lisa-Maree Thomason, You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown feels like a comic strip happening right before your eyes with these pure and endearing characters interacting and surprisingly meshing, despite their unique and differing personalities.
The set is simple, the band are fenced off with a coloured picket fence to one side of the stage, with majority of the stage consisting of colourful blocks. One even triangle shaped that the cast could use to easily slide into scene, and they do, throughout the production. There’s also a board on wheels that could be turned around to reveal a blue sky with white clouds. And of course, Snoopy’s red doghouse is ever present on the stage. I felt like I was watching a kids show like Play School, which was the perfect mood and setting that You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown needed. The wig, hair, and costuming also made it easy for patrons to define which character was which, like Charlie Brown’s iconic yellow shirt with black squiggle.
Charlie Brown is a nervous kind, careful and cautious young boy with confidence issues. Hesitant and overthinking almost everything, Dylan Mazurek shines throughout this production, but especially in his solo number ‘The Kite’, perfectly encapsulating the character’s pure innocence and random moments of wisdom with sincerity and heart.
Charlie’s sister Sally Brown is cute, bold, bright, inquisitive, and is played by Britni Leslie with strength, sass, and excellent comic timing. Sally being at eternal war with her skipping rope throughout the show is hilarious and Leslie executes the portrayal brilliantly, particularly during the song ‘My New Philosophy’ which was infectiously charming, funny, and endearing.
Schroeder is a young, accomplished pianist who is study focused, music passionate, and a complete Beethoven fanboy. Portrayed wonderfully by Bradley Storer, my mind flickered to all the animated moments that I could recall, watching Schroeder passionately playing the piano while constantly being pestered by Lucy, or spitting Beethoven facts for his friends to hear, regardless of whether they were wanted or not. Storer is great especially during ‘Glee Club Rehearsal’ where his character is so focused, he doesn’t notice his friends bickering until they’ve all disappeared, and ‘Beethoven Day’, where Storer manages to convince the audience of his Schroeder’s genuine joy for the legendary musician.
Lucy Van Pelt is unapologetically unfiltered, loud, feisty, outspoken, determined, and fierce, and is played by Rebecca Symonds perfectly. Whether it be crushing on Bradley Storer’s Schroeder or bickering with her younger brother, Jackson Howe’s Linus, Symonds plays Lucy exactly how I remember her from the animations and comic strips, while also successfully making the character her own.
Snoopy and Woodstock, played respectively by Dinesh Mathew and Samantha Stewart, are a joy to watch. With Woodstock, much like the comics and animations, mimicking Snoopy, and Snoopy being in his own world, whether pretending to be a pilot in a fighter jet, having a meltdown before supper, or being fixated on a ball. Every moment that this terrific two were on stage garnered many and well-earned laughs and smiles.
Finally, Jackson Howe is superb as Linus Van Pelt. Admittedly, Linus was never a favourite of mine from the original source. However, Howe is simply outstanding in every regard, perfectly portraying Linus’ childlike whimsical behaviour alongside the character’s known serious intellect, equipped with some great dance skills to boot. Howe shines and provides the perfect combination of humour and charm during the number ‘My Blanket and Me’. And let me tell you, that separation anxiety between Linus and his security blanket felt very real.
Overall, You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown is delightful in every way and this production delivers in spades. I applaud professional independent companies including and like Stagebugs Productions for being smart and brave, helping to bring celebrated theatrical work to the Australian stage shows that we otherwise wouldn’t see.
Stagebugs Productions’ You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown is now playing at St Kilda’s Alex Theatre until July 2.
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Photography by 3fatesmedia.