For those of you who came in late, the first musical I was in was a 1973 production of the original of this piece. It was a blast, I played the title role, and am still friends with the director (hi Hil!). The original script and score are pretty basic, and it's a gem of comic timing.
In 1999, the show was revived on Broadway with a major re-write. Songs were added, which is fine, but some of the original songs were so jazzed up and over-produced that they seemed like marketing department parodies of themselves. It starts with the opening number, which turned a charming study in timing and contrasts into an "everyone talk at once" fiasco. And they took out the "woof/boom!". How could they take out the "woof/boom!"???? The baseball game went from a pleasant waltz tempo for the verse to a way-too-fast jazzy thing. They slowed it down for the ending, though. A major character change was made which replaced Peppermint Patty with Sally with a ton of added stuff for her (no wonder - the revival part was written for Kristen Chenoweth). Some of the lines in Happiness were re-assigned, which reduced its effectiveness. And to throw in the final monkey wrench, the curtain call became a jazz treatment of Happiness, which is like doing a jazz treatment of Silent Night.
So this is a schizophrenic review, it has multiple personalities. First, as you can probably tell, I don't like the revival version. Second will be about the performers/performances.
Looking at the program before the show, I noticed the stars are also choreographer and music director. And co-producers. And they share a not very common last name with the executive producers and a producer-director. Reading the bios, it was clear that all the actors had been around the block a few times. Make that a few hundred times. Their resumes are very impressive. This is usually a Good Thing. In this case it was a mixed thing. Except for Snoopy, all the cast members looked too old for their parts. And except for Snoopy and Schroeder, the actors were a bit too well fed for their parts. Charlie Brown can get away with being a bit round, but not the others.
Charlie was played by an opera-trained vocalist clearly singing out of his range. It was like watching a voice lesson, which is fine if I'm watching an opera, but not so fine for a kid's musical. Lucy has a very strong voice, and when she sang from the diaphragm she could have been heard in New Jersey, but by intermission she was mostly screaming, and it was not Lucy, and it was not pretty. Sally did a great job with her part, as did Snoopy, but the massive script and music changes made it hard for me to really appreciate them. A note to Schroeder - at least try to look like you are playing the piano and conducting the chorus. It's bad enough that you look 10 years older than the rest of the cast. Nice pipes, though. Linus. Horribly mis-cast. Linus should not look like a college linebacker, and should not tower over his big sister. He just looked and sounded out of place, and it has nothing to do with his being what is euphemistically called "alternative casting". I'd feel the same if Harrison Ford was cast in that role.
The set is spot-on, though it was kind of tragic that the fire hydrant was broken during one of the more frenetic dance numbers, and Snoopy carried it off the stage just before it was supposed to be referred to in Little Known Facts. Kind of cute that Snoopy had the presence to take it offstage.
Costumes were also true to the comic strip, which made the corpulence of many of the actors even more glaring.
The actors were miked, audio was pretty good all around. There's not much one can do with lighting the Retro Dome stage, so they kept it simple, and except for the strobe effect not working because there was too much light on the stage, all was good.
There were a couple of fluffed lines, which is okay for live theater. Schroeder missed one, and Charlie reversed a pair of words and then broke character and gave himself a little grin about it. I don't think the character Charlie would have noticed the gaffe. Charlie Brown's life is a series of mistakes, punctuated by the occasional disaster. But other than that moment, Charlie was played as well as the revival script allowed, sometimes better. He totally nailed the ending of The Baseball Game.
So now for the schizo bottom line:
A) If you grew up with the OBC version with soon-to-be Radar O'Reilley as CB, this is not the show you want to see.
B) If you are not familiar with the original script, and/or have children under 12 years old, it's worth full price.
You're A Good man, Charlie Brown! plays at the Retro Dome, 1694 Saratoga Ave San Jose, CA through December 18.