Good grief! It’s Charlie Brown
‘A comic strip come to life’
The first theatrical event that I ever performed in was “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown.” Many stage performers that I’ve known have appeared in that show in their youth. Maui makeup designer Rachel Deboer’s first stage role was as Snoopy; “The Addams Family” lighting designer Christie Ward’s first role was Lucy; and Ally Shore, director of this weekend’s version, played Snoopy twice — once at age 15, and again at 20.
“It’s a comic strip come to life,” says Shore.
On Friday night, the classic musical-comedy will open at the ProArts Playhouse in Kihei.
The original 1967 production credits John Gordon as author, but Gordon was really a pseudonym created by composer and lyricist Clark Gesner to encompass himself, the cast and the production staff, all of whom worked together to assemble the script from Charles M. Schultz’s “Peanuts” comic strips.
That original ’67 team included Gary Berghoff (“MASH”) as Charlie Brown, Bob Balaban (“Waiting For Guffman,” “Best in Show”) as Linus and Joe Raposo, composer of many “Sesame Street” songs, who served as musical director.
Coincidentally, Shore’s team went back and looked at the original strips. I was surprised to discover that none of the ProArts cast members — Dale Button, John Galvan, Logan Heller, Katherine Holtkamp, Lina Krueger and Kiegan Otterson — have ever appeared in the musical.
“We have a great cast, and we’re having so much fun. The fact that no one in the cast has ever done the show before means that everyone’s bringing an original take,” said Shore. “We went back to the strips that the show is written from to glean that information, and we’ve staged the production based on the actual comic strips.”
In 1998, “Charlie Brown” was revived for Broadway with a modernized script and additional songs. The character of Peppermint Patty was replaced with Charlie’s sister, Sally, played by then-newcomer Kristin Chenoweth.
Other future stars from that revival included Anthony Rapp (“RENT”) as Charlie Brown, B.D. Wong (“Jurassic World”) as Linus and Roger Bart (“The Producers”) as Snoopy. Bart and Chenoweth would go on to win Tony Awards that year. ProArts is presenting the 1998 version with what Shore calls, “Our own twist on a few of the numbers.”
One new twist that Shore is introducing is projected imagery and motion. The minimalist set will feature screens displaying colorful and familiar backgrounds in the style of Schultz’s artwork.
I asked why she chose “Charlie Brown” to make her Maui directorial debut.
“It’s a crazy world right now, and it’s nice to have these familiar faces to make you laugh,” Shore explained. “Charles Schultz’s entire basis of ‘Peanuts’ was to make people laugh. If you take something away from it that is meaningful to you, great, but I really just want audiences to escape into the show and their memories. No one is going to leave this show and say, ‘I’m changed.’ I hope they’ll say ‘That was fun, let’s do it again.’ “
“There’s a sense of nostalgia,” said Holtkamp, who plays Sally. “There’s not a person on this planet that doesn’t know Charlie Brown or Snoopy. The characters are all very independent and sophisticated. To see adults in these roles, playing kids, is a very funny twist as well.”
“It’s a very uncomplicated and linear story, but that is its charm; and Ally’s attention to detail — from the projections to props — is phenomenal. It truly is a comic strip come to life,” said Galvin who plays Schroeder.
I asked the entire cast if they had a favorite character as a child.
“Charlie Brown — so that worked out well,” offered Otterson, who plays the title role. “He’s such a caring and considerate person — that always appealed to me.”
“Peppermint Patty, but she’s not in the show anymore,” laughed Holtkamp, who plays Sally.
“I liked Peppermint Patty too, because she was a tomboy,” said Krueger, who plays Lucy.
“Snoopy, because he was the goofiest,” said Galvin.
“Everyone loves Snoopy,” added Holtkamp. “Snoopy marched to the beat of his own drum; he was alone, he couldn’t communicate with everyone. I identified with that because I was shy in school.”
Heller picked Linus, the character he will play in the show.
“He is different in his own way and he likes to keep his things pristine. I was that way when I was a kid,” Heller explained.
Button, who plays Snoopy, also chose Linus.
“Linus was Charlie Brown’s friend, no matter what — and he was smart,” added Button.
Musical director Kim Vetterli, who previously worked on productions of “Charlie Brown,” said “I was first familiar with the strips and not the cartoons. I just liked all the characters and savored every day’s new strip. The vignettes in this musical touch your heart and they’re filled with little gems of wisdom.”
“It’s just a great show with some really talented adults. Our cast ranges from age 21 to 60. That astounds me — these different generations coming together,” added Shore. “We hope that will be the case with the audience too, and that is why ProArts will be having keiki-priced tickets.”
On Saturday night, Maui OnStage revealed the five productions scheduled for its 2018-19 season at Sneak Peek: Broadway on the Beach.
In September they’ll present Neil Simon’s “Rumors.” In this farce, the deputy mayor of New York City accidentally shoots himself just before an anniversary party. His wife is nowhere in sight, and his lawyer must get the story straight before the guests arrive.
For the holidays, MOS revives one of its biggest hits, “Elf the Musical.”
In March of 2019 it will present Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera, “The Pirates of Penzance.” When a junior pirate plans to mark his 21st birthday by breaking free from the Pirate King, he discovers his birth date is actually February 29 — Leap Day. Because of this contractual loophole, the Pirate King will not set him free.
In the late spring 2019, MOS presents “The Boys Next Door” by Tom Griffin. This comedy-drama centers around four mentally-challenged men who live in a group home.
The season will conclude next July with the Maui premier of “Mama Mia,” by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus of ABBA fame. For more information visit www.mauionstage.com.
King Kekaulike High School in Pukalani opens its new performing arts center with “The Lady Pirates of Captain Bree,” book by Martin A. Follose, music and lyrics by Bill Francoeur, directed by Chris Kepler, with orchestra direction by Casey Nagata.
* Performances are at 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays, Friday through April 29 at the King Kekaulike Performing Arts Center in Pukalani. Opening night is sold out. Tickets are $10 for adults and $6 for students. For more information or to purchase tickets for any King Kekaulike drama event, visit www.kingkekaulike.com.
Seabury Hall Performing Arts presents “Dance Showcase 2018.” The 29th annual dance concert features all levels of the school’s program.
Bay Area choreographers Meghan and Tito Reyes return with a pop culture, hip-hop infused piece performed by the Seabury Hall Dance Ensemble.
Director of dance David Ward offers a Broadway suite that includes Cole Porter’s “Too Darn Hot,” “Take Me Back to Manhattan” and “Steam Heat” from “The Pajama Game.”
Nicole Yezzi choreographs a contemporary piece for the level C dancers to music by Clean Bandit, featuring vocalist Jess Glynne.
“Downpour,” a new work by Andre Morissette, is set to the “Waltz from Masquerade,” and Vanessa Cerrito choreographs the level B dancers in “Never Enough” from the musical “The Greatest Showman.”
* Performances are at 7 p.m. Saturday and April 27 and 28, and 3 p.m. April 29 in the ‘A’ali’ikuhonua Creative Arts Center on the Seabury Hall campus in Makawao. Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and $5 for students. To purchase tickets for any Seabury Hall Performing Arts event, visit www.seaburyhall.org.