How crabby are you?
In Act II of “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown,” Lucy takes a crabbiness survey. She doesn’t like what she learns. Linus, her younger brother, gives her a 95. So Lucy punches him out.
That comedic bit plus kite flying, a glee club rehearsal and a baseball game come from “Peanuts,” the brilliant and insightful cartoon strip by the late Charles M. Schulz. Other tales slip into Clark Gesner’s musical, which opened Off Broadway in 1967 and has had many revivals since, most notably in 1999 when it won two Tony Awards.
If you haven’t seen the musical, now’s your chance. The Durango Arts Center has chosen “Charlie Brown” to be its summer headliner. Ginny Davis directs.
“I love this show,” Davis said in a telephone interview. With a multidisciplinary doctorate in music, art and theater, Davis is the go-to faculty member at Fort Lewis College for musical theater – and she’s a lifetime fan of “Peanuts.”
“I, like millions of folks all over the world, grew up with Charlie Brown in my newspaper and on my television. When you see the musical version, it seems pretty clear and simple. But it’s deceptively hard to stage. It’s been a wonderful challenge.”
The musical begins with Charlie (Matthew Dranzik) alone on stage. Soon he’s joined by Lucy (Lauren Berkman), Sally (Alyse M. Neubert), Schroeder (Jonathan Patton), Linus (Matthew Socci) and Snoopy (Cierra Taylor). They offer overlapping opinions about Charlie. Momentarily, he’s happy as they collectively refer to him as a good man. But doubt creeps in and propels much of the remaining action.
With a six-character cast, a three-piece jazz band and a spare set, the action moves through a lot of quintessential Schulz vignettes, Davis said.
Every cast member has musical theater experience. Dranzik is a teacher and performer from Philadelphia with a MFA in physical theatre. Berkman graduated from the Boston Conservatory. Neubert has a bachelor’s degree in theater performance and directing from FLC. Her FLC colleagues fill out the remainder of the cast: Taylor graduated this spring with a bachelor’s in science and a lot of stage credits; Patton will graduate next spring with a music/business degree; and Socci has had leading roles in various FLC productions, including the villain in “Dead Man Walking.”
Paula Millar, music director and pianist, heads up the jazz band. FLC graduates Katrina Hedrick (percussion) and Evan Suiter (bass) have performed with the San Juan Symphony and have affiliation with Stillwater Music. In the fall, Hedrick heads to the master’s program at Colorado State University. Tracy Korb (bass) alternates with Suiter. She plays with various local groups and is a regular at Durango’s Jazz Church sessions.
Technical direction is in the capable hands of Eric Bulrice with assistance from the DAC dream team: John Mark Zink, lighting, Jane Gould, costumes, Neubert, choreography, and DAC’s inimitable producer Theresa Carson.
“The stage is deliberately simple,” Davis said. “It has to be because the musical is a compilation of ‘Peanuts’ material with a lot of different locations. My goal is to keep the show moving so that people will leave wanting more.”
If you want to see if Lucy has a rare moment of reflection in Act II, don’t miss the show.
The show will open July 1, and runs evenings that weekend, followed by a break and will resume July 14-16, 21-23. There are matinee performances July 3 and 31.
Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theater Critics Association.