OnStage Founder & Editor-in-Chief
DARIEN, CT - The past twelve months have been very special for Charlie Brown and his friends. In November, a brand new movie titled, The Peanuts Movie, was released and grossed almost $250 Million worldwide. The movie coincided with the comic strip's 65th anniversary.
But 2016 is a significant year for the Peanuts gang as well, because it marks the 45th anniversary of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, which is receiving an absolutely charming production at the Darien Arts Center.
Walking into the theatre and seeing it converted to a theatre-in-the-round, I wondered if it would work. But director Peter Green and choreographer Jana Powers, use the space very well and constantly have their actors in motion in a sensible way.
While the show doesn't have much in terms of a plot(for the most part its vignettes of comic strips), fans of Charles M. Schulz will certainly recognize and enjoy the dry wit of his dialogue between songs. One such instance is when Sally(played by Jenifer Condon) discusses her grades with her teacher.
But what makes this piece so delightful is the music from Clark Gesner. It gives these characters added humor and depth. There are moments of poignancy and meaning, which Mr. Green highlights without exploiting.
The cast here is excellent. A small cast of only 6, each one perfectly embodies each of these characters. While their resemblance in look is aided by costumes and hair, it's their performances that really show their commitment and connection with who they're portraying.
As the title character, Matthew Casey is a simply wonderful Charlie Brown. Automatically likable, we're cheering for him from beginning to end. Mr. Casey gives Charlie Brown a child-like voice yet mature sensibilities which makes his struggles relatable to much older audience members.
Another strong performance is given by Melinda Zupaniotis as Lucy. Ms. Zupaniotis strikes the right balance of bossiness and naivety. Lucy goes through her own self-realization in the piece as well which allowed for some very affecting moments which Ms. Zupaniotis handled very nicely.
Giving the show a fantastic shot of energy is Billy Schubeck as Schroeder. Normally a quiet character behind his piano, Mr. Schubeck gives him a voice, a very good one at that too. Mr. Schubeck delivers one of the better vocal performances I've heard in this area this year.
Additional praise for strong vocals must be given to Jenifer Condon as well. Ms. Condon wisely avoids giving Sally an over-the-top cartoonish voice and provides some great musical numbers. While "My New Philosophy" has become a tired audition standard, Mr. Condon does breathe some new life into it. She also shares some fantastic moments with Chris Meindl's Snoopy. Mr. Meindl is a delight to watch as the famous pup, even nailing his iconic laugh at a couple of moments. Finally, Noam Ben Yakir is a picture perfect Linus. Smart yet innocent. He's every bit the blanket hugging future philosopher you would hope for.
Director Peter Green astutely opts for a simpler production with a bare-bones colorful set designed by Heather Wilson. For a show about connection and love, Mr. Green abandons spectacle and concentrates on relationships and it really works well. Ms. Power adds some creative choreography as well. Numbers like "The Baseball Game" and "Beethoven Day" look fantastic.
Dwayne Condon's music direction is spot on. Leading a four person pit, the music sounded great with a mix of piano, various and and brass instruments, drums and a stand up bass, everything sounded perfect. I must also praise Heather Kahlert's creative prop design and Jac-que Robinson's lighting design.
All in all ,this is a wonderfully constructed show with a positive message. Children will absolutely love seeing these characters live, as proven by the amount of children who ran up to the cast for autographs after the show. But this show appeals to all ages and adults will find it quite moving as well. I couldn't recommend it more.
The show runs thru May 7th. For tickers and info, visit darientarts.org or call 203-655-8683