Youth is not only a time when one has the opportunity to be free of any worry or doubt but also the age at which self-discovery begins. Learning about one’s strengths and weaknesses is an experience every person has gone through. Of course, this self-discovery may consist of many trials and tribulations, as presented in Carmel Christian School’s production of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.”
Charlie Brown is an elementary schooler who, though suffering from a sort of depression, has many friends with other zany, quirky characteristics, and he leads this gang into varied and often hilarious experiences. The CCS production used a minimalist set accurate to the original comic strip and costumes and talent that raised the show to a higher standard. It brought us back to the days when the free-spirited, insightful nature of Charles Schulz filled our hearts and minds with the joys of youth, as well warning us of the perils of self-doubt.
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The groundwork for any theater production is built upon its set, of which “Charlie Brown” had very little. Through its use of technology and props, CCS managed to give an exciting performance nonetheless. Three projection screens, one central and two at the sides, were used in place of a physical background, making character interactions more flexible.
When Charlie Brown (John McManus) flew his kite into a tree, instead of doing the action as bland, simple mime, we saw him crash the kite into a comic-looking tree onscreen. Though the effects themselves weren’t stellar, the comedic effect would have been impossible without this unique mix of traditional theater and modern technology.
The projection screens also supported the show’s style, allowing quick scene changes. Transitions were done much more effectively than they would have been if a bulky background needed to be changed. Fast shifts let the actors better control when and how they entered a scene, often improving comic timing as well as the speedy start and end to a conflict.
The anecdotal form in which the show is presented, through humorous, has little connection to any overall plot. The show is built up of small, unrelated scenes portraying the everyday life of Charlie and his peers, with each typically amounting to a hit-or-miss joke or gag. This style, while faithful to the original comic, does not provide a solid basis for the musical in terms of theme or plot. Aspects of the show mentioned multiple times are never resolved: Linus (Sebastian Wood) never moves on from his blanket, and Charlie never faces his redheaded “crush,” despite multiple attempts to get up his nerve.
Because the musical shies away from character development, actors remained consistent in their portrayals and never varied from the initial impressions they gave. Each character embodies one all-encompassing trait: Lucy (Payton Miller), for instance, is always arrogant. This leads to the characters staying on surface levels and lacking complexities. That said, the traits were portrayed well enough to justify the actors’ choices.
The costumes had a flair that suggested Schultz’s original “Peanuts” gang from the ’50s, stimulating the eyes without detracting from the scene. The wigs, made from a Styrofoam-like material, were unconventional yet fit the performances, helping to identify each character. The actors joined to form an ensemble when scenes focused on other characters, an effective way for a small cast to make up for what it lacked in numbers. This group also proved adept at singing, with each voice being clearly well trained.
Despite the aforementioned lack of a plot, the one large drawback to “You’re a Good Man,” this musical embodies the woes of youth as no other show has. Its appeal to kids remains clear, as the laughter of children throughout the performance attested. For the older audience, it’s the equivalent of attending a G-rated sketch comedy show. Even for people who dislike that style of humor, the singing, visuals, and costuming provided ample reason to go.