From the moment Lucy Van Pelt confronted Charlie Brown about his "failure face" in the opening number, you could see what Western Playhouse's very first production would emphasize brilliant physical humor, superb comedic timing and a whole lot of dumping on poor, old Charlie Brown.
Tee Qullin — who's better known as the artistic director of the department of theatre and cinema at Missouri Western State University — served as the bald-headed, yellow-and-black-clad kicking post in the musical. And, frankly, the highly experienced Quillin was probably the best suited to take on such a frustrating role. How can a character with such bad luck and little self-confidence continue to hold such a shiny, happy outlook?
That's what "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" explores for approximately two hours when it's not overflowing with hilarious vignettes centered on the hijinx of the Peanuts gang. Set against a backdrop that truly looks like a hand-drawn panel, this musical doesn't nail down a plot. Much like the Charles Schulz newspaper comics that inspired this work by Clark Gesner, each strip provides something a little different. You'll see Snoopy (Kyle Minx) and Sally (Morgan Breckenridge) spooking themselves while chasing rabbits through a meadow. You'll watch the gang rally around aspiring pianist Schroeder (Raymond Johnson) to carefully promote Beethoven Day. You'll even witness an aerial battle between Snoopy and his dreaded nemesis, the Red Baron.
No word describes this musical better than, well, fun. The audience had a ton of fun on opening night at Potter Hall Theater, but it appeared the cast of students and professional actors were somehow enjoying it a little more.
Alisha Marie Garnier definitely chewed up the scenery as the boisterous, bossy, braggy, blue-dressed Lucy. Truly, no actress has perfected angry stomps and that fuming hands-on-the-hips maneuver better than Garnier, whose volume was fittingly a couple of notches above the rest of the cast's. The musical number "Queen Lucy" — a scene in which Lucy boasts to Linus (Erik Burns-Sprung) from the gigantic sofa about how she will one day become royalty — got lots of laughs from adults and kids alike.
But Garnier wasn't the only lady on stage giving people a case of the giggles. Morgan Breckenridge wonderfully captured little sister Sally Brown's split personalities, which could range from sweet to stubborn and immature to intelligent. Watching Sally eloquently argue the "C" grade she received on her coat hanger sculpture proved to be very humorous, as did many of her over-dramatic moments.
"Don't you tell me life's not a Shakespearean tragedy!" Breckenridge exclaimed with her arms flailing after Sally dropped her ice cream cone.
However, Breckenridge was at her finest when paired with Kyle Minx, who played Snoopy. Their performance of "Rabbit Chasing" stole the show, thanks in part to well-placed spots of pop culture mimickry (Any musical number that can spoof "Titanic" and Beyonce is all right in my book).
Minx met every physical demand placed in front of him, whether he was sliding off of his doghouse, mocking a frantic Lucy, begging for supper, swinging from vines like Tarzan or gunning down the Red Baron. Minx's moment to shine came at the end of the second act, when "Suppertime" kicked in. The number starts with some jazzy Broadway moves before it turns into a full-blown James Brown-esque soul boogie. "Summertime" finally ends with an entertaining kickline, but Minx and the company handled it all in stride.
Johnson and Burns-Sprung both gave solid performances, respectively, as Schroeder and Linus. The musical numbers "Beethoven Day" and "My Blanket and Me" featured excellent harmonies and provided each actor his moment in the spotlight. Not to mention, both numbers effectively utilize articles of clothing (You'll have to see it for yourself).
And that brings us back to poor, old Charlie Brown. While Quillin's performance didn't draw out too many laughs, his portrayal proved to be the play's emotional anchor. During Charlie's somewhat depressing but excellently delivered monologues, one could hear moans of pity radiating throughout Potter Hall Theater. Charlie Brown connected with so many people over the years because we can all relate to the youthful doubt he constantly feels. Quillin understood this and played it up throughout the show.
By the end, we realize two things: Charlie Brown really is a good man, and this is one really good play.
Between the outstanding cast, a very funny script and the ice cream and yogurt served at intermission, you'd have to be a total blockhead to miss this play.