Christ Memorial Lutheran Church decided some years ago that one way it could serve its community in south St. Louis was by sponsoring a community theatre. Every fall Christ Memorial Productions stages a musical. Members of the congregation participate, but so do some of the best actors we see at other community theatres around town. Designers and crew members, too, all thorough, precise, talented, and very good. We always enjoy – and admire – their work. One highlight was their production of Fiddler on the Roof – a Jewish story, a Catholic director, in a Lutheran church. How ecumenical can you be?
Wanting to involve the larger community, Christ Memorial Productions usually chooses a musical with a large cast, one with a number of children, if possible. Last year, they had to cancel. This year the virus still made things iffy. But they wanted to get back to their audience. So they chose a musical with a small cast, You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, five kids, a dog, and a magic blanket.
Most of us probably were first seduced by Charles M. Schultz and his Peanuts gang when we were not much older than the gang themselves. Their experiences, all the joys, fears, and uncertainties while growing up, were our experiences. As we grew older, we discovered that we continued to have something very like those experiences, perhaps at a deeper level. Schultz continues to speak to us – and entertain us.
Christ Memorial is using the version of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown that was made for the 1999 Broadway revival. Andrew Lippa added songs and Michael Mayer added dialogue to Clark M. Gesner’s original creation. Charlie Brown’s sister Sally replaced Patty, and the role made Kristin Chenoweth a Tony-winning star. Rachel Mackenzie, who played Sally at CMP, not only looks a lot like Chenoweth but gives Sally the same irrepressible charm and strong-willed determination. She sings well, too.
Roger Bart also won a Tony on Broadway as Snoopy. Snoopy gets the best song-and-dance number in the show, “Suppertime.” Choreographer Bethany Dowd’s moves exploit all of the raffish charm Paul Herbert Pitts brings to the role, a Snoopy who is careful to let us only occasionally glimpse his assurance of his innate superiority to those around him.
The non-musical parts of the show often are brief sketches, sometimes lifted intact from the strips. To my mind, those are the best parts of the show, and the cast handles the comedy well. But I do think this script pushes Charlie’s loser status too hard. Cory Frank holds our affection and sympathy despite the script, and gives full measure of reality to all the good and bad Charlie endures.
Chastity Cook’s Lucy Van Pelt runs things as usual, quickly restoring her aplomb when something momentarily startles her. Trey Marlette, as little – but delightfully tall – brother Linus, suffers her rule with grace, finding philosophical insights as consolation and comfort in his blanket, brought to life as his dancing partner by tiny Alora Marguerite. Colin Dowd’s Schroeder mostly ignores Lucy’s devotion, concentrating on his devotion to his piano and Beethoven.
Dianne Mueller’s direction was inventive and clear. Her set fit the modest scale of the production, with projected clouds floating by as Snoopy battled the Red Baron. John Jauss’s lights unobtrusively kept everything bright, and Larry Jost’s sound design made everything clear. Costumer Krysta Wenski dressed the characters just as we expect them to be. Music directors Kevin Jones and Joe Paule had both singers and instrumentalists sounding terrific.
I regret that the musical ends with the song “Happiness is . . .,” just as I regret the “Happiness Is” book that exploited Charles M. Schulz’s creations. Like all great humor, Schulz’s has a dark side. The musical includes it, but softened too much for my taste. But they did a fine job with what they had at Christ Memorial Productions.
Photo by Cindy’s Photo at CindysPhoto.com