Delightful and charming. Those are the words I would use to describe Rooftop Production’s current offering You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown which comes to life at the Kellar Theater at the Center for the Arts (Kellar Theater) in the picturesque Candy Factory in downtown Manassas City. The 1967 musical comedy with music and lyrics by Clark Gesner is based on the characters created by cartoonist Charles M. Schulz in his comic strip the “Peanuts.” The memorable, iconic characters of Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, Schroeder, Patty and Snoopy, remind us through their songs and angst that what truly makes us happy like baseball, make believe, music, chasing invisible rabbits, books, crushes, and friends, and is all right at our fingertips.
The Kellar Theater is the perfect venue for this stripped-down production with simple sets artfully designed by Ted Ballard (also the director) which reminds us of the Charles M. Schulz cartoons and makes us believe they were painted by the children themselves. The costumes, designed by Mandy Ken, are simple as well but completely appropriate down to the signature zig zag on Charlie Brown’s shirt. The lighting designed by Dale Walsh creates lovely effects such as the red light while Snoopy (played superbly by Jay Tilley) fights the Red Barron and the enveloping starlight as Charlie Brown (played with great sensitivity by Aaron Verchot-Ware) considers the Red-Headed Girl’s gnawed pencil. Choreography by Kristine Worley complimented the songs and was effortlessly executed by the cast.
The orchestration is simple too with a single piano which the music director, Daniel Holmes, used to support the lovely singing voices in the cast. Memorable songs include Lucy (played with ear-shattering brilliance by Laura Mills) singing of her undying love for Schroeder (played by the quiet but lovable Nick MacFarlane) in “Schroeder,” Linus (played charmingly by Ryan Walker) daydreaming as he dances and loves on his security blanket in “My Blanket and Me,” Charlie Brown fighting but failing to get his kite to fly in “The Kite,” the complicated overlapping “Home on the Range” with “Glee Club Rehearsal” led by the frustrated Schroeder, and of course the favorite “Happiness” sung by the full company. The number that brought the house down played with charm, wit and humor was performed by the seasoned and very talented Jay Tilley, singing Snoopy’s beloved signature song “Suppertime.”
Ted Ballard cast this show perfectly. Each cast member embodied their respective roles with energy, warmth and the wonder of childhood. Patty (played by Debbie Franck) was sweet and hysterical with her many comments and one-liners and gave a lovely performance chasing rabbits with Snoopy. All the iconic moments from Lucy’s adoration of Schoeder to Linus’ wisdom beyond his years, were played with honesty and innocence by this adult cast.
It is Charlie Brown who forever breaks our hearts and that was never truer than in the performance of Aaron Verchot-Ware. Aaron’s Charlie Brown makes us all remember how hard, confusing, exciting and disappointing life is at any age. We root for Charlie Brown to hit that home run and feel his pain when he swings and misses. Aaron brings a gentleness of spirit and yearning that touches the audience and made this audience member fight the impulse to run up on stage and give him a much-needed hug. Well done all.
This production will leave you smiling and reminiscing about your own troubled but delightful childhood during a perfect spring evening of theater.