Like a fresh box of crayons on the first day of school, You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown shares its sharp colors with the young audiences at Stages St. Louis. This is not your father's Charlie Brown, however it's a slimmed-down version of the 1999 Broadway revival, which added new music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa and new dialogue by director Michael Mayer to Clark Gesner's original script. The 50-minute Stages production doesn't give us Lucy's love song to Schroeder or Linus' soft-shoe "My Blanket and Me," but it packs such a sunny punch you hardly know anything's missing.
Or as the four-year-old boy sitting next to me shouted at the end: "That was fun!"
Roy Lightner is appealing as the always-wistful Charlie Brown. With a soaring tenor and a blend of melancholy and hope, he embodies the failures and dreams of the average blockhead. When he swings his bat and misses, the kids in the audience spontaneously groan with him, and when he thinks that even his dog doesn't love him, the adults instinctively utter a heartfelt "Awww."
Annie Funke as Lucy is Charlie Brown's perfect foil. "She's mad," commented my young neighbor. But Funke makes Lucy more than just a crabby trickster, she somehow renders her self-centered worldview appealing. Contrasting Funke's rooted physicality, Chelsea Jo Pattison as Sally is sprightly, gazing at the world on the tips of her toes. Her "Rabbit Hunting" duet with Snoopy is enchanting as they move nimbly from a Keystone Kops routine to a romance-movie spoof.
Brian A. Peters embodies the paradoxical Linus with ease, moving naturally between intellectual explanations of the literary implications of Peter Rabbit and sucking his thumb. (The former was way over the head of my four-year-old associate, while the latter made him giggle.) Vernon Goodman brings intensity to Schroeder, especially in "Beethoven Day," as he fervently tries to make the Peanuts Gang understand the serious implications of the newly christened holiday.
But Codey Girten's Snoopy steals the show. From his forlorn attempts to get fed to his philosophical summation of life ("not bad, not bad at all"), he holds the audience in the palm of his paw. While his acrobatic skills and dancing abilities add sizzle to several numbers, the show-stopping "Suppertime" truly showcases his abilities: He moves from Fosse to break-dancing with unstoppable energy. What makes Girten's performance even more remarkable is his ability to become part of the Gang and support the other characters as needed. While capable of a star turn, he remains a team player.
Or as my young friend summarized: "He's silly!"
Director Ben Nordstrom does outstanding work, filling each moment with character-driven details and carefully planning each transition so there's no dead time. Choreographer Kristen Nordstrom uses the variety of musical genres in creative ways, moving the talented cast through a diverse assortment of dance styles. The cast also clearly benefits from the precise work of musical director Stuart M. Elmore, who keeps the changing tempos crisp and clearly differentiates between musical styles.
The production elements harmonize with the performances. Set designer Bryan Schulte provides cartoon panels from the original script and primary-color set pieces. Lighting designer Doug Provost provides zing during the musical numbers. John Inchiostro's costumes clearly reference the classic cartoon styles. It's a solid production from start to finish, as evidenced by the children jumping to their feet to applaud during the curtain call.
While the child next to me mostly appreciated the silly antics of the characters and the lively dancing, older kids could see parts of themselves in Lucy's strength or Schroeder's passion. Even the adults seemed to enjoy the simple reminder that life isn't so bad after all. Perhaps the highest praise for the show came from children asking if they could come back and see it again.
Happiness is sharing an old favorite with a new generation.