‘You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown’ was animated.
In a vibrant theatrical display at the Emerge Church in Strathpine, Brisbane Musical Theatre have presented a warming and enthusiastic showing of ‘You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown’. Jam-packed with energy, and sprinkled in charm, this production was a great choice for a theatre group kick-starting community entertainment in 2020.
Based on Charles Schulz’s well-known comic-strip ‘Peanuts’, drawings come to life in this high-spirited musical, which first debuted off-Broadway in 1967. Comparable to a fully-loaded peanut and jelly sandwich, the storyline of ‘You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown’ is layered with memorable segments starring many of its familiar characters – Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus and of course Snoopy. Much like a comic strip, the production works through a series of various vignettes, centring around the innocent gang of six-year-olds and their juvenile chat. ‘You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown’ highlighted the purity of children, especially with dialogue that mirrors the words that ‘come out of the mouth of babes’. It also puts forth many important themes of self-discovery, friendship and “being yourself”.
Directed by Jesse Bradford, segments easily switched from one to the next and gallivanted around the space with simplistic staging. While most moments played centre stage, the set design of nine colourful boxes, initially in a ‘U-Shape’, allowed flexibility for the audience to travel to the children’s imagined worlds.
While the boxes were used in various forms, there was an incredibly neat moment where they were flipped and placed into a line, revealing a cartoon painted school bus that fitted together like a jigsaw. Actors became students seated on the bus and this moment captured the minimalism ingrained into the musical. While it was short-lived and only happened once, it presented a unique concept that could have been explored more. That is, painting the other sides of the cube could have furthered these interesting dynamics and become more comparative to the original cartoon.
The musical continued to capture the innocence of a child’s condition, and allowed audiences to reimagine their own childhoods. A distinctive moment that represented this was the implementation of a puppeteered kite, which saw Charlie’s creation fly in the theatre. Actress, Julia Cox did well to depict the movement of a kite struggling against the wind and she controlled it with an extended pole. Lighting focused in on the kite and allowed it to be visually stunning. What was an effective moment of theatre magic could have further tightened by ensuring the line of the kite was attached, as when it flew, audiences could see the string dangling in the light, which hindered the charm.
Lighting Design by Stephen Moodie utilised the Church’s newly installed LED strip lighting to full effect, and the brightness of tones really set the differing moods that fluctuated between happiness and sadness. It was stimulating and enhanced the colourful tones of the comic-strip itself. Musical Director, Jacob Bradford brought the fully squeaky sound of Charlie Brown to life, and the harmony at the start of ‘The Book Report’ was a highlight. Choreography by Danielle Remulta was also understated and adolescent, working well to sync with the direction.
Costumes were colourfully envisioned and attempted to replicate the cartoon in real-life. However, as much as they were bright and functional, there was some attention to detail elements that were missing, which could have created character confusion. For example, Snoopy was missing a dog’s tail and only had a cap with long black ears. A black nose or red collar could have been more representative of the iconic character. Also, for a messy and muddy Pig Pen, the character had a dirty top half, but pristine, clean white socks for his bottom half, and Frieda was dressed in noticeable jazz shoes while everyone else had sneakers. Lastly, Linus wore a light blue coloured top instead of his memorable red and black striped shirt. While these are minor inconsistencies, and only true fans of ‘Charlie Brown’ may recognise them, little fixes to these elements would have made the overall styling more accurate.
‘You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown’ is a popular choice among community theatre groups thanks to its small cast size, and it was obvious in Brisbane Musical Theatre’s production a camaraderie existed among its ensemble. In the title role of Charlie Brown, Kyle Armstrong was a loveable loser who fleeted between optimistic and pessimistic attitudes. With the vocal chops to support the role, and with his characters trademarked zig-zag shirt, Armstrong depicted much innocence doused in confidence-lacking, sentimental feels. As a young and impressive performer, Armstrong is making quite the name for himself among the Southeast Queensland scene.
Another energetic standout was the crabby and bossy Lucy, played with finesse by Niamh Cadoo-Dagley. Donning a sweet bow in her hair and one heck of a domineering personality, Cadoo-Dagley was perfectly expressive with her pouting face of the entitled, Queen-bee. She was a delight to watch and expertly embodied the childish ways of her character in her whole body movements. As her brother Linus, Lachlan Dodd was sympathetic, delightful and a little treasure onstage. His performance of ‘My Blanket & Me’ was a particular highlight, especially when revealing Linus’ dependent nature. Dodd used his prop in many ways and showed great acting ability.
Jackson Hughesman played Charlie Brown’s second-best friend Schroeder smoothly and virtuosically. In-tune with his characters refinery, Hughesman was distinguished and took much delight tending to his toy piano and sharing his characters love of Ludwig van Beethoven. Another pleasing portrayal was Jasmine Winstanley as the red-headed love interest for Charlie Brown, Frieda. She embraced her moments cutely with an innocent smile. In the programme, Winstanley was listed as a dual role, however, no costume change took place. It would have been nice if there was more distinction between each role as the audience couldn’t really tell there were two.
Rounding out the cast, Emma Venzke was both parts a pretty in pink perfectionist and a scolding sour sister with her portrayal of Sally Brown; Isaac Chetcuti was a mud-loving and messy Pig Pen; Julia Cox was a sleepy Peppermint Patti, and Ceitlin Campbell donned the iconic role of Snoopy.
While ‘You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown’ runs for a short amount of time, and small attention-to-detail-moments would have tightened their overall concept, Brisbane Musical Theatre’s production highlights what their kind-spirited and energetic troupe can do. Paying homage to the crowd-pleasing classic, Brisbane Musical Theatre itself is a place where happiness can be found.
‘You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown’ comes to life until Saturday, 4 January 2020. For more information visit the Brisbane Musical Theatre’s Website.