Schulz on stage

By Emilie Hornak: CNJ Correspondent

CCC actors bring late cartoonist Charles Schulz’s Charlie Brown characters to life in play.

Children remind us of pure and simple days, when the most important things in life were school work, baseball games and holidays.

All of this wholesome innocence and more was captured for decades by cartoonist Charles Schulz in his Peanuts comic strip.

Now, a local team of actors is bringing the lives of Schulz’s crew straight off the comics page and to the stage in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.”

“(The musical is) all based on the work of Charles Schulz, an absolute genius at knowing how we all felt when we were kids. He hit it right on the nose,” said Director Don Criss.

The musical production follows a day in the life of Charlie Brown, along with little sister Sally and pals Lucy, Peppermint Patty, Linus, Schroeder and, of course, Snoopy.

“Charlie does all of the things that get him into trouble in the comic strip in the musical,” Criss said. “He’s an every man, man — someone we can all relate to. He misses the bus.

He’s lonely at lunch eating his peanut butter and jelly sandwich all by himself. He likes a little red haired girl who he’s scared to talk to. He can’t get his kite to fly. He’s sad because he doesn’t have any Valentine’s cards. He’s a little clumsy. He’s just like the character in the comic strip.”
And so are the rest of the characters, Criss said.

In fact, much of the production is just like the comic strip. There are several piano pieces performed by Schroeder. Linus drags around his blanket. Lucy offers her heartfelt advice for a small fee from her infamous psychiatrist’s booth.

“Watching the play, what we tried to do was outline all the props with thick black lines like in the comics — well, except for the performers of course,” Criss said, adding that a lot of nice pastels add to the look. “It’s like being lifted up and taken into the comic strip and watching what’s going on in the magical world where Charlie Brown lives. There are all of the kinds of things you see very simply drawn in cartoons, but in the theater experience you feel like you’re there with the kids.”

At least that’s how Joshua Aguirre, who plays the role of Charlie Brown, hopes the crowd will experience the musical.

“It’s fun that way. With all the simple pieces, the bold colors, the thick outlines it’s a lot of fun,” Aguirre said. “It sticks really close with the comic strip, so I hope the audience feels as though they’re drawn into the comic strip.”

Appearing alongside Aguirre in the musical are Amanda Hughes as Sally, Corine Lacy as Lucy, Courtney Wallenborn as Peppermint Patty, Adam Guiterrez as Schroeder, Joey Carranza as Linus and Mark Schmidt as Snoopy.

Adding even more punch to the production are the musical numbers that keep the gang moving throughout their day.

“There are quite a variety of sounds,” said music coordinator Mary-Lynn Brown. “There’s a lot of piano interacting with the dialog, just going back and forth. There’s a lot of fun stuff.”

However, Brown said audiences don’t need to brace themselves for whiney renditions of the musical numbers, which the actors heard on CDs of Broadway productions of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.”

“They had people singing in obnoxious voices, but we’re not going that way,” Brown said. “Our cast is singing in a pretty style, not nasally, not in a baby voice.”

She said the cast stays in character by doing all of the child-like motions that go along with the music, but they avoid making the characters sound silly.

And what does the cast want the audience to walk away from the performance with? The ability to get back to that place in their life where the important things were doing book reports, playing ball and eating ice cream.

“I think that’s the big point. Kids go through the day and things happen — some good, some bad,” Aguirre said. “But at the end of the day they know what makes them happy. I hope people get that, because adults usually forget.”