Charlie Brown is faring quite well in this 1999 redo of Clark Gesner's 1967 Off Broadway hit, which fits quite well at Burbank's intimate Colony Theater. A revamped book by Michael Mayer and updated score by Andrew Lippa add pizzazz to the folk from the comicstrip of Charles Schulz, amplified by the imaginative staging of Todd Nielsen.
Charlie Brown, that icon of youthful angst and insecurity, is faring quite well in this 1999 Broadway redo of Clark Gesner’s 1967 Off Broadway hit, which fits quite well at Burbank’s intimate Colony Theater. A revamped book by Michael Mayer and updated score by Andrew Lippa (including two new tunes) do much to add pizzazz to the shenanigans of the wee folk immortalized in the comicstrip of the late Charles M. Schulz, amplified further by the imaginative, energetic staging of Todd Nielsen. He is rewarded by a Broadway-caliber six-member ensemble that manages to burrow right into the heart of the “Peanuts” gang.Production still follows a typical, failure-plagued day in the life of Charlie Brown (Ed F. Martin), who anguishes over his unrequited love for the little red-haired girl, cannot keep his kite from being eaten by the nearest tree, and is the manager of the world’s lousiest baseball team. Of course, the ever-abrasive Lucy (Julie Dixon Jackson) is relentlessly campaigning to win the heart of ethereal, Beethoven-loving Schroeder (Roger Befeler), and Linus (Rod Keller) is never too far from his security blanket. Meanwhile, the irrepressible Snoopy (Nick DeGruccio) cannot help but turn his mealtime into a major production number while continuing to wage war on the Red Baron. Mayer has transformed the previous character of Patty into Charlie’s scrappy kid sister, Sally (Beth Malone). Highlighted by Bradley Kaye’s comicstrip-perfect sets, Nielsen’s staging zips along without ever undermining the intrinsic qualities of each character. Martin evokes the sad-faced charm of perennial loser Charlie as he battles to finally get his kite in the air (“The Kite”) and pleads with his motley team to give it their all (“The Baseball Game”). Laser-voiced Jackson’s Lucy is a steamroller of self-involvement as she declares her intentions on “Schroeder,” while he benignly continues to play Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.” One of the production’s highlights is Lucy’s confounding creation of “Little Known Facts,” which she dispenses to a fascinated Linus, much to the consternation of Charlie. Befeler soars through one of the production’s added songs, “Beethoven Day” and joins Malone’s Sally in Lippa’s other added tune, “My New Philosophy.” Sally is the most childlike character in the production, and Malone achieves a perfect balance of naivete and spunk as Sally attempts to convince a reluctant Snoopy that he should be “Rabbit Chasing.” Keller exhibits some nifty soft-shoe credentials as Linus rhapsodizes over “My Blanket and Me.” He also handles Linus’ philosophical outpourings with proper simplicity and restraint. DeGruccio is a hoot as Charlie Brown’s otherworldly dog Snoopy. He replicates Snoopy’s attitudes and dance moves to perfection as he declares himself to the world (“Snoopy”), flies his Sopwith Camel into battle (“The Red Baron”) and leads a Busby Berkeley-like extravaganza in celebration of “Suppertime.” Music director Tom Griffin and a four-piece instrumental ensemble provide solid support, aided immensely by the well-balanced sound of Drew Dalzell. The costumes of Scott A. Lane are character perfect.