|You're a Good Man Charlie Brown|
This play is a series of vignettes to illustrate a day in the life of Charlie Brown and the other characters in Charles M. Schulz world of Peanuts.
Each vignette is supported by a song and all of them are directly based on moments from the award winning comic strip. The play begins with each of the characters talking about Charlie Brown and giving their opinions of him.
Charlie Brown is unable to talk to the "cute little red-headed girl", he is unable to fly a kite, he loses the baseball game, doesn't get a valentine and yet in the end he is still optomistic and full of hope. His sister Sally is upset because of the poor grades her teacher gives her. Lucy wishes to be queen, acts as a psychiatrist, and tries in vain to get Schroeder to confess his love for her. Linus suffers separation anxiety from his blanket and Snoopy entertains by being a vulture, a WWI pilot and dances for his supper.
The play ends, nicely bookended with everyone confessing that Charlie Brown is a good man.
I had seen a particularly bad production of You're a Good Man Charlie Brown in the early 1970's and when Justin Bates told me he wanted to do this play I was less than enthusiastic. We discussed it over lunch and he told me how he felt about the play and it's message of hopefullness. He told me that Schulz had been criticized for penning the strip about a perennial loser like Charlie Brown and Schulz responded by saying Charlie Brown was not a loser because no matter what happens, he never gives up. This is the idea that Justin wanted to communicate to the audience. A message of hopefulness. I began to look at the material in a different way and started to find it endearing. I had always liked Peanuts when I was young.
Justin said he wanted a unit set with an area set aside for each character to have individual moments in. He also wanted to have several levels but was very clear that they couldn't impede the action. He also said he wanted the look of the show to mimic the look of the Sunday color edition of the strip. He wanted to pay homage to Charles M. Schulz. I had a clear idea of where to begin.
I picked up a few books with reprints of Peanuts comic strips, particularly the ones with the Sunday editions and began to study them. I found that often Schulz would use a single, flat color for the sky and a different color for the ground. His sky wasn't always blue and his grass wasn't always green. The background was merely there to provide an environment for his characters to exist in. Every now and then, when it was necessary he'd add a wall or the corner of a house or some of the props that were important to the world of Peanuts.
Schulz had a very loose line style which was mirrored in Vince Gauldi's jazz theme for the television specials. Most of the time all that separated the sky from the ground would be quick pen strokes that communicated grass simply and elegantly.
I designed a series of levels, all curved and all painted in colors I had seen in the Sunday strip to create the different areas for each of the characters. Each of the levels were six inches above the one below so the actors could move up and down with grace and ease. There was also a ramp between levels where the height was greater than six inches.
|Levels for characters|
Elizabeth House, our charge artist at the time captured the essence of Schulz's line work very well in the painting of the trees and groundrow, as well as all the other props. Each surface was to be painted a flat color first and the linework to be added after with Van Dyke brown instead of black. I like Van Dyke brown because it is so dark and yet it gives a little back whereas black just absorbs the light and appears to be a void on the stage. Van Dyke also gave us the appearance of India Ink which I think emulated the style of the cartoonist better than black would have. Elizabeth also played the part of Lucy in this production, by the way.
|Linework in grass, tree and doghouse|
|Schroeder and Lucy at the piano|
|Linus and Lucy on oversized sofa|
|No Valentines for Charlie Brown|
|The Doctor is in|
|Lucy and Schoeder at the wall|
|Snoopy with bullet hole decals on doghouse|
|Oversize baseball gloves made by|
Since this is a musical, I had to make room for the orchestra, which in this case was a band. I located the band on an elevated platform at the rear of the theatre so they could have a clear view of the stage and the performers.
I was grateful that Justin cajoled me into taking this script seriously. I had developed a bias toward the material because of a bad production. I found this particular production of You're a Good Man Charlie Brown to be compelling and inspiring. I credit the director for that.
Directed by Justin Bates
Scene Design by Gary Benson
Lighting Design by Ray Versluys
Costume Design by Patty Randall
Technical Director: Ray Versluys
Costume Shop Director: Patty Randall