Review: ‘You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown’ at Imagination Stage

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Imagination Stage presents You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, based on the comic strip “Peanuts” by Charles M. Schulz. Clark M. Gesner provides book, music, and lyrics, with additional dialogue by Michael Mayer and additional music and lyrics by its director, acclaimed playwright Aaron Posner. Familiar and fun, this is a show that comforts your nostalgic inner child while welcoming the newer generations with open arms.

The cast of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, now playing at Imagination Stage. Photo by Margot Schulman.
The cast of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, now playing at Imagination Stage. Photo by Margot Schulman.

An homage to the comic strip is used as a backdrop, with the characters’ profiles illustrated using the halftone pattern found in newsprint. Scenic Designer Nate Sinnott uses large set pieces (think classic Charlie Brown, including Snoopy’s doghouse and the famous “Psychiatric Help” stand) that are built with a jungle-gym twist—giving the actors multiple levels to work with (and around, and up, over, and through!). Music Director Deborah Jacobson plays lively notes from a piano slightly offstage, letting Schroeder take the credit with his miniature version. Lighting and sound effects round out the atmosphere, designed by Max Doolittle and Patrick Calhoun, respectively.

Costume Designer Kelsey Hunt dresses the actors in their characters’ iconic ensembles, making no need for introduction for those in the audience who grew up with them. From Charlie Brown’s yellow zig-zag shirt and Linus’s red hoodie, to Sally’s pink polka-dot dress, they’re dressed as they are fondly remembered. As the group of friends take the stage, they dance around Charlie (a well-rounded performance by Christopher Michael Richardson) in the number “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.” In a smart choreography choice by Tony Thomas, Charlie’s fretful persona is known before he even speaks, as he tries to mimic the dance moves of his friends but is unable to keep up with them. Charlie is a worrisome, doubtful child, always overthinking himself into an anxious spiral. As he and his friends explore their childhoods, including messy struggles and proud victories, Charlie hopes to build his confidence through hard work and support from his peers.

The cast of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, now playing at Imagination Stage. Photo by Margot Schulman.
The cast of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, now playing at Imagination Stage. Photo by Margot Schulman.

The dynamic and talented cast all do great jobs with their characters; Awa Sal Secka gets a lot of laughs as the ever-bossy Lucy, especially while warbling her way through Schroeder’s piano playing in hopes of getting his attention. A put-upon tortured artist type, Schroeder (Michael J. Mainwaring) only has eyes for his piano. Mainwaring shows off stellar vocals in the memorable number “Beethoven’s Birthday.” Harrison Smith gives a deceptive performance as thumb-sucking Linus–easily the most childlike in behavior but also the most intelligent, he shares a dance with his beloved blanket in the number “My Blanket and Me.” Erin Weaver also gets a lot of laughter from the young audience as the loud, overdramatic Sally. Her song “My New Philosophy” easily gets one of the most enthusiastic reactions from the crowd. Finally, Joe Mallon rounds out the cast as everyone’s favorite, Snoopy, who gives a passionate, jazz-inspired performance about the love of his life—his dinner bowl! The cast works together seamlessly, with each giving distinctive, eager performances.

Imagination Stage’s production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown is a great choice for parents and children alike. It has something to offer for everyone—a testament to its enduring popularity and influence. Treat your child (and your inner child!) to a showing!

Running Time: Approximately 80 minutes, without an intermission.

You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown plays through August 12, 2018, at Imagination Stage—4908 Auburn Ave. Bethesda, MD. For tickets, call (301) 280-1660 or purchase them online.