YOU'RE A GOOD MAN CHARLIE BROWN based on the comic strip by Charles Schultz, book, music and lyrics by Clark Gesner, additional dialogue by Michael Mayer, additional music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa (Stratford Festival). At the Avon, in rep. stratfordfestival.ca. See listing. Rating: NNN
Complaining that director Donna Feore has updated You're A Good Man Charlie Brown is like bitching about Shakespeare playing on a proscenium stage. Ridiculous.
So I'm astonished by the critical reaction to Stratford's version of the musical based on Charles Schultz's comic strip. Too big, too brassy, too much razzle-dazzle, is the general beef.
Sure, what was once a charming, lo-fi series of episodes in which the hapless Charlie Brown tries to find some dignity now features all-out production numbers on a huge stage tricked out with a high-tech set. But the cast, with one exception, is terrific and, more important, the kids in the audience loved it.
First things first. The players are wonderful, except for Andrew Broderick as the artistic Shroeder. He lacks the character's nobility and is the weak link vocally. And why have him breakdance? Because he's black? But as Charlie Brown, Ken James Stewart has just the right sad-eyed quality. Erica Peck is a little shrill as Lucy but sings up a storm. Amy Wallis is a knockout as Charlie's sister Sally, fierce and funny, and Kevin Yee almost steals the show out from under all of them as Linus. My Blanket And Me is a showstopper.
Stephen Patterson gives more edge to Snoopy than fans of the show may be used to. But his ferociousness - his video game play is a riot - and ongoing snarky commentary, done mostly with stage business only, make him a real crowd-pleaser.
Credit the Stratford Festival with presenting a show that draws in a younger audience. I sat behind a young girl who was so thrilled, she could barely contain herself. Next year, she and other young audience members will be asking their parents to take them again. And before you know it, she'll have heard of that Shakespeare guy I mentioned earlier and she'll want to see something by him, too.