‘You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown’ at Montgomery College by Amanda Gunther

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Good grief! Did you hear? The Department of Theatre at Montgomery College is presenting You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown to kick off the start of their fall season. Directed by James Gardiner with Musical Direction by Dr. Jay Crowder, the Peanuts gang, created in comic form by illustrator Charles M. Schulz, is back together on the stage for a limited engagement! All of your fun-loving favorites are there; Charlie Brown, Linus and his blanket, Sally, Lucy, Schroeder, even Snoopy! Follow these loveable characters through little comic scenes with musical adventures to perk up their candid humor. It’s just like you remember them, only now they’re live on stage.

(l to r) Charlie Brown (Conor Scanlan), Linus (Kevin Mori), Lucy (Awa Sal Secka), Snoopy (Jonathan Miot), Schroeder (Michael Mainwaring), and Sally (Mili Diaz). Photo by R. Scott Hengen.

Scenic Designer Elizabeth McFadden brings the comic strip to life with her cartoonish designs, using a thick black marker to outline each of the set pieces and backdrops. The over-elaborately sized couch really helps to put the performers into a more childlike perspective and the giant cartoon bus that gets wheeled along makes for a whimsical adventure back to the Sunday morning funny pages. McFadden uses the bright pastels and warm vibrant colors direct from the comic strips to make every aspect the Peanut world come to life just the way the audience remembers it.

Choreographer Bobby Smith brings another level of childish fantasy to this show with his moments of cute and classy dance routines. During “T-E-A-M (The Baseball Game)” we see great ballgame action moves incorporated into the swing steps of the number. Smith further executes playful brilliance during “My Blanket and Me” letting Linus do a soft-shoe tap routine that is then accompanied by the other Peanuts as they twirl their blanket about. Look for other adorable instances of the Peanuts signature dancing with their limbs up and down in the air throughout the production, and you’ll even find the cast doing the dance ‘The Charlie Brown.’

Musical Director Dr. Jay Crowder creates a perfect sense of four-part harmony at the two key moments in the show where vocal chaos could otherwise reign. During “The Book Report” each of the five human characters come into their own with uniquely varied tempos and tones as they sing in round and harmony about Peter Rabbit. Crowder again makes impeccable harmonies heard during “Glee Club Rehearsal” as Schroeder leads the others in singing ‘Home on the Range’ with their own unique Peanuts twist.

Awa Sak Secka (Lucy) had a well-trained voice that was sugary sweet when belting her notes. Secka was crabby, as the character is written, but in a more adult manner compared to the other kid characters on stage. Conor Scanlan (Charlie Brown) gave a wonderful rendition of the pathetic gloomy but loveable blockhead, Unfortunately at this performance I saw he had some vocal problems with “The Doctor Is In” and “The Kite.” However, Scanlan’s portrayal of the show’s title character was impressive as he fell into all the right ‘good-grief’ moments.

Team Manager Charlie Brown (center- Conor Scanlan) and the Peanuts Gang ready for the Big Little League Baseball Game. Photo by R. Scott Hengen.

The most adorable person on the stage was miss Sally Brown (Mili Diaz). As Charlie Brown’s precocious little sister, Diaz owned the cuteness factor, gushing over Linus, and exploding with pint-sized anger during her solo scene wherein her coat-hanger construction project received a ‘C’ in class. Diaz kept the audience in stitches with her spunky rendition of “My New Philosophy” belting out powerful notes while still sounding nasally and childlike.

And the most powerful and well-disguised voice in this ensemble came from Michael Mainwaring (Schroeder). Completely engrossed in the piano, despite Lucy’s attempts to distract him, Mainwaring remains mostly silent until it’s time to belt about Beethoven. Mainwaring creates a philharmonic rumble as he breaks out into joyous elation over the celebration of his favorite composer, leading the cast to a powerful number with his pristine voice. Watch him lead them straight up and over the piano too!

But the show stealer all comes down to the dog. The Peanuts favorite dog, Snoopy (Jonathan Miot). Making sure to have his presence felt in every scene he’s in, Miot portrays Snoopy to uproarious heights, soaring high above his doghouse with class, eager entertainment, and a level of pizzazz that’s just tops. His facial shenanigans are a scream, gaining momentous laughter from the audience with the progression of the show. And he shines like an over-commercialized Christmas display during his big number “Suppertime,” bringing all the razzamatazz of jazz to this solo. Keep an ear out for Miot’s solo in the first act, “Snoopy,” and you’ll see a wild and crazy side of the loveable white beagle that you’ve never seen before.

Good grief! Don’t be a blockhead and miss out on your chance to reunite with The Peanuts Gang this October at this dog-gone good production of You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown.

Running Time: Two hours with one 15-minute intermission.

You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown plays through October 14, 2012, at the Robert. E Parilla Performing Arts Center at Montgomery College – 51 Mannakee Street, in Rockville, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (240) 567-5301, or purchase them online.