Charles M. Schulz’s beloved comic strip “Peanuts” was first adapted for the stage by musician and actor Clark Gesner in 1967, and made its Broadway debut in 1971. Since then, “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” has been frequently adapted, becoming a popular choice for many community theater companies due to its small cast and simple staging.
Though a modest production, the musical is by no means short of personality; “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” at San Francisco’s Landmark Musical Theatre utilizes a strong cast to tell Schulz’s timeless stories, bringing the signature charm of “Peanuts” to a local stage.
“You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” is Landmark Musical Theater’s first full musical production in their new home at 533 Sutter Street. With book, music and lyrics by Clark Gesner, additional dialogue by Michael Mayer and additional music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa, the musical retells several short stories from Schulz’s comic. Following the adventures of classic “Peanuts” characters and featuring recurring gags such as kite flying, Beethoven and psychiatric help for five cents, the musical provides audiences a healthy dose of joyful nostalgia.
The unique pacing of the musical — short bursts of storytelling, reminiscent of the original comic strip — and the lighthearted content of each vignette keep the production moving. There is never a stagnant or dull moment in the show, only a constant stream of feel-good fun. The songs in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” aren’t revolutionary in composition or lyrics, but their thoughtful simplicity is what makes the show the renowned family musical it is.
Still, each song is filled with lots of humor, and the cast’s comedic performances effectively capture each child’s signature characteristic; Linus (Ryan Liu) is clever beyond his age, Lucy (Meredith Fox) is crabby and arrogant and Charlie Brown (William Rhea) lacks confidence but is impossible not to love. Numbers such as “The Book Report” and “My New Philosophy,” shine due to their colorful portrayal of each character, a relatable aspect of the show that reminds audiences of their own childhood and naivety. The cast of Landmark’s production nailed or elevated each song’s tone, demonstrating a thorough understanding of the hallmarks of their characters.
The cast is certainly the production’s strongest facet, effortlessly emulating recognizable personalities in this new storytelling medium. Rhea’s Charlie Brown is an undefeated defeatist who the audience is always rooting for — thankfully, he always gets up again after each fall. Eriette Atanante’s performance as Sally is lovable, bubbly and quirky; she serves as the perfect annoying little sister archetype that the audience doesn’t tire of. Additionally, Schroeder is portrayed by real-life pianist Paul Hogarth who plays a functional toy piano, another nice touch to the show that absorbs audiences further into the world of “Peanuts.”
The star performer of the show is Johann Santos as Snoopy, who faces the added challenge of portraying a beagle onstage. Performing primarily atop his doghouse, Santos performs with canine-like behavior while emphasizing Snoopy’s surprising insightfulness. Whether seeking the Red Baron as a World War I flying ace, playing shortstop on the group’s baseball team or singing about the joys of suppertime, Santos’s Snoopy is full of hilarious swagger. He’s headstrong, scrappy and unmistakably Snoopy.
The pit band for “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” deserves recognition for solidly supporting the show throughout its entirety. Conducted by pianist Christopher Hewitt and with David Simon on reeds and Doug Lippi on percussion, the band provides a strong musical foundation for the show, helps make transitions seamless and fuels the personality in each number. The band aids the flow of the musical, stitching often disjointed stories into one cohesive show.
Landmark Musical Theater’s “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” is a fantastic musical production that appeals to all audiences, capturing the essence of childhood and Schulz’s cherished characters with ease.