In 1967, protests against the Vietnam War were escalating in the United States, right along with the overseas conflict. The arms race was heating up, as the U.S. and U.S.S.R. staged back-and-forth atomic bomb tests. And race riots in Buffalo, Newark, Detroit and elsewhere left hundreds of people, most of them black, dead.
At a time when political and domestic tension was building to a breaking point, the world welcomed a sweet little musical about children trying to make sense of a world that is confusing, complex and unfair. The play, You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, based on the Peanuts comic strip by Santa Rosa's Charles Schulz, featured songs and story by Andrew Lippa and Clark Gesner.
It was a huge hit.
Half a century later, 6th Street Playhouse presents a charming revival of the show, timely not only for its arrival in the play's 50th anniversary, but also because the world feels depressingly similar to the one that first greeted the musical in 1967.
Directed by Marty Pistone, with sprightly musical direction by Ginger Beavers and a minimalist/comic-strip set by James Anderson, the play features a marvelous cast of adults. Delivering grin-inducing and (mostly) well-sung performances, the cast effectively evokes the mannerisms of their famous cartoon inspirations, while putting a pleasingly personal spin on each character.
Dominic Williams, in the title role, nicely captures Charlie Brown's patented blend of depression, optimism and human decency. As his little sister Sally, Katie Kelley is superb, especially in the sassy song "My New Philosophy." Erik Weiss gives Charlie Brown's dog Snoopy a slightly unhinged quality, and brings down the house with the exuberant anthem "Suppertime." As the blanket-clutching Linus, his gleefully crabby sister, Lucy, and the music-adoring Schroeder, Cooper Bennett, Amy Webber and Robert Finney all have moments to shine and delight. Siena Warnert—as the Little Red Haired Girl, a dancing blanket and a very smart rabbit—does some agile supporting work.
Fifty years after its debut, this plot-free but emotion-packed musical is once again a welcome reminder that in a world gone mad, some things never change. That innocence is good, if complicated, and images as simple as a kite in a tree, a dog rocking aviator goggles and a boy playing Beethoven on a toy piano still have the power to make us feel young, optimistic and safe—if only for a couple of hours.
Rating (out of 5): ★★★★