Curtain Call: McLeod Summer Playhouse’s You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown
What: Clark Gesner’s You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown (live theater)
When: 2012-06-15 - 2012-06-23
Charles Schulz’s Peanuts is a cultural phenomenon, having long transcended its origins in the newspaper comic pages to become a ubiquitous presence appearing on T-shirts and coffee mugs as well as in numerous television specials. Now Schulz’s classic characters will come to Southern Illinois when the McLeod Summer Playhouse performs You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown June 15, 17, 21, and 23 in the SIU Communications Building’s McLeod Theater.
Written by Clark Gesner, You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown made its off-Broadway premiere in 1967 and has since gone on to thousands of productions around the world. Gesner based the play’s simple premise on the meandering atmosphere of Schulz’s comic strip, and it’s proven to have a lasting appeal.
“I think Charlie Brown is a wonderful show,” director and choreographer Courtney Self says. “It’s a small show. It’s wholesome and it’s innocent, and yet it has really specific and poignant meaning, which is really what Peanuts was as well, and the show reflects that nicely.”
Self says she and her crew drew a lot of inspiration by going back to Schulz’s original comic strips, particularly those from the 1960s and 1970s, and notes that the two share some very important traits.
“Before Charles Schulz, before Peanuts came out in 1950, his style of drawing in the funnies was not really popular,” she says. “He was so simple. It was just a few lines and it took on so much meaning. There was this simplicity.... Two words that have been important for me with the show are ‘bold’ and ‘simple,’ and that’s really how Charles Schulz drew and that’s how the writers of the show set up the dialogue and the songs and the structure, including the simplicity of the sets and even the costumes that Charles Schulz put on the characters. So I think in that way, theatrically, it echoes the aesthetic that Charles Schulz put on the page.”
A major factor contributing to the lasting success of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown has been the play’s music. Many of its songs, including “Suppertime” and “Happiness,” have become fan favorites. This version of the play will feature musical accompaniment by a combo comprised of strings, woodwind, piano, bass, and drums.
Musical director and pianist Margaret Simmons says that since Gesner based the play around his original soundtrack and since the narrative is so connected to the music, there’s not a lot of room for improvisation or straying from the structure of the songs.
“You want to [stay away from improvising] because a lot of the music and the cues is so integrated, and our combo is sometimes maybe a comment on what the actor has said,” she says. “Courtney [Self] said it’s a little like an eighties sitcom. They do the punchline and then you hear the music as they run out of the room.”
You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown has a small cast of only six actors: Thomas Eric Morris as Charlie Brown, Rachel Dunning as Lucy, Zac McMahon as Snoopy, Josh Kimball as Linus, Lori Lusted as Sally, and Frankie Shin as Schroeder.
“As soon as the cast and I got in the room together it was like instant chemistry,” Self says, “and we’ve been having a blast in the rehearsal room. What’s great about [the show] is that it is scripted, so we’re following the script and we’re doing everything that’s in there, of course, but what’s fun about it is that the show and the characters and the circumstances encourage play, and so there’s a certain amount of creativity and openness to exactly how that plays out between director and actor. So I sort of allow them greater flexibility, because we’re trying to figure out where the fun exists, and where the magic of Peanuts exists.”
Tickets are $25 for adults and $10 for students. For tickets, visit <http://SouthernTicketsOnline.com>, call (618) 453-6000, or stop by any Southern Tickets Online walkup location, including Shryock Auditorium, McLeod Theater, and Walker's Bluff General Store. There are no service charges for in-person purchases, though phone and online purchases will carry charges ranging from $1 to $1.50.
For more information, stop by the theater box office on the south side of the Communications Building, call (618) 453-5741, or visit <http://playhouse.siu.edu>.
who: McLeod Summer Playhouse
what: Clark Gesner’s You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown (live theater)
where: Communications Building McLeod Theater
when: June 15, 17, 21, and 23