There are few characters of Americana more charming than Charlie Brown. The cartoons are quintessential comfort food, oozing with holiday spirit, the innocence and discovery of youth, all blanketed with warm, gentle humor that reaches the youngest of children, the most seasoned of adults, and every demographic in between.
“You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown,” at San Jose’s Retrodome, produced a faithful telling of Charlie Brown’s journey into what it means to be a good man. The production was wonderfully united with solid, detailed direction from Scott Guggenheim, with a lot of attention being paid to the harmonious blends of the music, wholesomely pleasing to the ear.
The show gets off to a rousing start with its opening number which shares the show title, setting a nice exposition forward for the world of the Peanuts kids. Charlie Brown (Stephen Guggenheim) is on a journey to find out if he really is the good man people say he is. As he continues to pursue his youthful discoveries, as well as works on mustering the courage to sit next to his beloved red-headed girl, other ubiquitous subplots take form. There’s Sally (Shannon Guggenheim) and her attempt to discuss marriage with the Beethoven-obsessed musician Schroeder (Mark Martinez), Linus (Nick Nakashima) and his journey to rid himself of his blanket, and Lucy (Hillary Little), who provides plenty of opinions and psychicatric advice for a mere five cents per session.
And then there’s Snoopy (Keith Pinto), who is positively joyful as a dog with human thoughts. It is truly what makes the character so much fun, because we humans often take the time to try to figure out what our dogs are thinking. Not only does Snoopy give us the pure joy of a pooch when it comes to eating, but his imagination in moments such as the Red Baron are fun beyond words. Pinto’s Snoopy was amazingly fluid, a huge burst of energy which also featured a dimension of popping and locking that may not be accurate to canines, but was deliciously fun nevertheless.
The Retro Dome productions are steeped in the fact that they pay lots of attention to the music details, and this production was no exception. Singers like Little and Shannon Guggenheim anchor a solid blend of voices, and the sounds were shaped even further by band leader/pianist Thomas Tomasello. Even though Tomasello is not an actual cast member, his contribution to the show made him feel like another character, with his ivory tickling directly filling in key plot points.
Numbers like “My Blanket and Me,” “Beethoven Day,” and “Glee Club Rehearsal” were easily some of my favorite tunes, while Snoopy’s soliloquy “Suppertime” rates high on the funny-o-meter. And the closing number of “Happiness” brings a certain holiday warmth to a nice, gentle denouement.
The production not only did a nice job of performance, but also created the entire show on a color palette that faithfully brought forward the animation style of the original Peanuts cartoons. Every prop featured strong, outlined darks that bring a true visual honesty to the stage. This was also reflected in the costumes as well, with both technical pieces wonderfully designed by Julie Engelbrecht.
While not a perfect production, it was most definitely wonderfully solid, an entertaining feast of wholesome nostalgia for anyone who struggled to muster the courage to ask the untouchable crush if the seat next to her is taken. If it is, then rats. But if it’s not, would you like to share my perfectly outlined sandwich?
Guggenheim Entertainment presents “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown”
Music and Lyrics by Clark Gesner
Book by John Gordon
Directed by Scott Evan Guggenheim
Musical direction by Stephen Guggenheim
Choreographed by Shannon Guggenheim
David is a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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