What did the Peanuts comic strip teach kids who grew up on it in the 1950s and 60s? That failure is sometimes inevitable but endurable. That true friends may be bizarrely quirky and false ones may be amiable flatterers. That the female sex can be assertive and competent, if often crabby, while the male sex can be sensitive without being weak. And that a dog is often the smartest mammal in any small group.
When Youre a Good Man, Charlie Brown sticks to that philosophy which is most of the time its funny and poignant. (A lot of the vignettes come directly from Charles Schulzs comic strips.) When it veers off into gooey sentiment in a way Schulz was careful never to do in his prime, its clumsy. Yet the mixture of self-knowledge and naïveté Schulz wrote so well comes through most of the time, and that part of the show hasnt dated.
For once, Childrens Theatre of Charlotte has opened with a musical that isnt a physical blockbuster or slam-bang series of big numbers. Director-choreographer Ron Chisholm worked from a 1999 Broadway revival, where Sally replaced Peppermint Patty, but he avoids traps into which that reportedly overblown version fell. (In a tribute to the absent character, ushers handed peppermint patties to departing playgoers on opening night.)
Instead of an airborne carpet or Peter Pan, the only thing to take flight is Charlie Browns kite. (Its Charlie Browns kite, of course, so that cant last.) There are no grand, rousing musical choruses, or even a chorus at all. Six characters, coming and going in various patterns, do all the emoting. John Bowhers simple set, where furniture floats in and out, suits the production well.
Writer-composer-lyricist Clark Gesner has made three of the kids memorable: woebegone Charlie Brown, hectoring Lucy Van Pelt and spirited, self-absorbed Sally Brown. Lucys brother Linus gets short shrift, pianist Schroeder brings little to the party, and Snoopy doesnt seem as wildly fanciful as he ought to be. (He was the Schulz character who really captured the childlike ability to enter into a fantasy; the humans were far more prosaic.)
Ashby Blakelys diffident manner and wide-eyed resignation make him an ideal Charlie Brown, but the women steal the show: Cassandra Hawley Wood is a perfect pepperpot of a Sally, and Lucianne Hamiltons Lucy can be needy, frightening or an irresistible steamroller. She would surely grow up not to be a queen, as she dreams, but Maggie Thatcher.