Reviewer: Mark Clegg
Despite being upstaged by his dog, Charlie Brown was always the central character of Charles M. Schultz’s comic strip Peanuts. Snoopy may adorn more t-shirts and cuddly toys but the ‘blockhead’ Charlie Brown (he is always addressed in full) was pivotal from the strip’s creation in 1950 through to it becoming a worldwide phenomenon. Snoopy-fever hit its heights in the 1960’s and 70’s and as part of that came the bold step of a musical based on the strip.
Far from being a series of childish jokes, Schultz made Peanuts a literate essay on the problems and (more often) the insecurities of the human race. Charlie Brown is the everyman who fails at every turn, forever questioning his place in the world. For a comic strip about children, Peanuts is soaked in angst and philosophy, psychology and social commentary. Clark Gesner’s musical reflects this and perfectly captures the tone of the source material. This musical first appeared in 1967 with the version featured on this new recording the rewritten score from the 1999 revival with extra material by Andrew Lippa.
Although featuring a cast of five child characters aged approximately seven years old (and one dog of indeterminate age), You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown was written to be performed by adults. Although often performed by children in school productions of the show, this CD marks the first time that a recording of a professional cast made up of children has been released. However, what gives this soundtrack its USP is also its biggest flaw…
The cast are all great, especially considering their youth. Joshua Colley is fantastic as Charlie Brown, his excellent singing voice conveying the constant mix of hope and doubt that makes the character so memorable. Aidan Gemme brings fun to the proceedings as Snoopy and Milly Shapiro nails Lucy’s overbearing qualities. Jeremy T. Villas is Linus, Gregory Diaz is the piano-playing Schroeder and Mavis Simpson-Ernst is Sally. All are wonderful. However having a child cast for a musical with such big themes proves its downfall. With an adult cast in the roles, much of the humour comes from seeing them depict the childish qualities of the characters while addressing adult themes. Reverse that and it works less well – a young cast performing angst-ridden, philosophically rich songs coming across as frankly precocious.
You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown is a witty, charming, classic musical that deserves to be championed and this nicely produced CD is a credit to that. However the score is not memorable, nor musically is it particularly pleasant to listen to (the later Snoopy: The Musical is far catchier and melodic), and listening to a child cast perform these songs does not add but rather detracts from the content.
A bold attempt but much like the character of Charlie Brown himself, doomed to mediocrity.