Review by Daz Gale
An iconic character comes to London this Christmas in a rare outing for You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown as this year’s festive offering at Upstairs at the Gatehouse. A classic that brings to life all of the weird and wonderful characters from Charles M. Schulz’s Peanuts comics, would it bring out the inner kid in me, or would it leave me exclaiming “Good grief” with disappointment?
The musical adaptation of the Peanuts comics, You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown, premiered off-Broadway in 1967, opening in the West End the following year. A new version played in Broadway in 1999 with a cast including Roger Bart and Kristin Chenoweth, but that version has only been seen in London once before, in a limited season at the Tabard Theatre in 2011.
You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown, is presented as a series of shorts, all performed without connection to each other, though various themes and aspects of characters are repeated throughout. If you are expecting a fully fleshed-out musical turned in linear form, you may find the style slightly jarring, but this style is perfect for those with shorter attention spans, making it perfect for small children With a book by Clark Gesner, it beautifully brings Charles M. Schulz’s creations to life in their innocent world, even when they are contemplating some of life’s more serious questions.
With music and lyrics by Clark Gesner in the original production and additional music and lyrics from Andrew Lippa, the show features some sweet musical numbers with ‘My New Philosophy’ and the ridiculously cute ‘My Blanket and Me’ among the highlights. The two standouts bookend the production with infectious opening number ‘Youre A Good Man, Charlie Brown’ and rousing finale ‘Happiness’ ensuring you leave the theatre with a smile on your face. All musical numbers are expertly performed by musical director Harry Style (not that one) and his band.
Amanda Noar’s direction is effective in its simplicity, with all of the fabulous cast becoming very small children, even when towering over six feet themselves. It’s the ability to channel escapism that makes this so successful. Equally impressive is her choreography which makes act one closer ‘The Book Report’ a cleverly chaotic sequence. Ruby Boswell-Green’s set design transports us in to Charlie Brown’s world. While extremely simplistic to a crude effect, it is exactly what you would expect from a show like this, never distracting from the performances of the cast and doing exactly what is needed of it.
The cast of grown-ups are all sensational, embodying these classic characters. The always wonderful Jordan Broatch charms as our titular hero, Charlie Brown with Milly Robins delighting in her turn as his sister Sally. Troy Yip is a joy at Shroeder with Jacob Cornish scene-stealing as the adorable Linus. Eleanor Fransch is a standout in her suitably dominating turn as Lucy, with the cast completed by Oliver Sidney in a star turn as the iconic Snoopy, brilliantly encapsulating the characteristics associated with the character and transforming him into an all-singing, all-dancing triple-threat. Whether it is a factor with the book itself or something that didn’t translate in this production, I would have the character of Charlie’s narrative a bit more connective in the way it plays out his nervous personality, but I understand that is something only a big kid such as myself would look for, and small kids were delighted in the way this was done.
Perhaps You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown isn’t going to change the world, but sometimes you just want a nice and harmless bit of fun that makes the best of the material it has. An ambitious and impressive attempt from a relatively small fringe theatre that is upping the ante with its upcoming programming, this was a sweet and charming production that may have struggled to fly at times, but gets there in the end.
You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown plays at Upstairs at the Gatehouse until 14th January. Tickets from https://www.upstairsatthegatehouse.com/
Photos by Simon Jackson