Stages Theatre Company in Hopkins, MN is staging the Peanuts based musical You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown. Adapted from the popular comic strip by Charles M. Schulz with Book, music, and lyrics by Clark Gesner and additional material written by Andrew Lippa and Michael Mater. It is basically a series of vignettes that play like reenactments of the daily comic strips but with songs along with the through line being Charlie Brown’s struggles with his self esteem. It’s pleasant as with the cartoons the source material has also spawned, there are jokes for the older audience and those for the smallest. None of the songs are going to make it onto your showtunes playlist, but they also do not drag, they’re pleasant. It’s a safe show to bring everyone to and the venue makes for an enjoyable night out.
Most of your favorite characters get a chance to shine; however, of the favorites Peppermint Patty and Marcie get the least to do but they fare better than Pigpen who is present, but unless I missed it, that’s it. One of the interesting aspects is that there are two sets of casts, The “Joe Cool Cast” and the “Flying Ace Cast”. I saw the “Joe Cool Cast” and was pleased with the talents on display*. It’s a great idea to have two casts for a summer show like this where the performers are all between the ages of 12 and 18. It gives more young people the opportunity to be in the show and it allows the cast time off in the summer as well.
As for the production itself, there are a lot of challenges built into the job of director Sandy Boren-Barrett. Firstly, two separate casts of young actors to rehearse and stage. Secondly, staging the show outside of the Theatre where you would have had more control. One can imagine the little vignettes working more effectively with the use of spotlights and a darkened stage. The trade off, after a year of isolation and some lingering uncertainty when the production was planned concerning Covid, the outdoor venue probably weighed heavily in that regard. Plus, it’s nice to be able to safely gather outdoors for a live performance. I also want to point out the scenic design by Jim Hibbeler, it captures the comic strip perfectly and the white panel frames used periodically to frame characters like panels in the strip are well designed and utilized. Costumes by Christa Ludwig also capture the look of the characters we all know so well and that is the right choice, straying from what we expect in this case would have been the wrong call. Laura Mahler’s choreography was well chosen it allowed for all the performers to succeed and gave those with perhaps an extra bit of experience a place to shine from time to time.
The musical is being staged outdoors at Hopkin’s Downtown Park. There are hills to place blankets on and some benches but most of the audience wisely brought their own camp chairs. The show runs about 60 minutes and is recommended for all ages. Performances run through August 8th. For more information and to purchase tickets go to https://www.stagestheatre.org/.
* In general I do not review the performances of young actors. I feel it is important for young people to take part in the arts. I want them to participate in theatre because they love doing it, not for the feeling they get when someone praises what they have done. On the flip side, I don’t think they need to hear criticism of their performances at such a young age. A negative comment can be hard on a mature performer but it goes with the territory. As an adult actor you have to develop a thick skin and accept that not everyone is always going to like what you’ve done. But young artists are not always equipped to deal with that yet. Be sure that if the acting was terrible it would be reflected in the quality of the production itself, which is what my review will be. As a rule, in a show dominated by young actors I will tend to simply avoid performance discussion in general including the adults in the cast.