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REVIEW: With classic timing, comic strip comes to life in ‘Charlie Brown’

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You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown/ Ghent Playhouse

GHENT PLAYHOUSE HAS a winner! To capture Charles Schulz’s particular brand of comic-strip subtlety (Peanuts) is too much to ask of anyone; but Clark Gesner in his musical “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” has put his own mark on the characters; and, with director Judy Staber and her cast, they deliver a delightful production.

In Act I, the piece borrows a vaudeville tradition of enter/setup fast/punch-the-punchline/& exit fast. It tickles the funny bone and doesn’t tax anyone’s attention span. Later the writing gathers some hints of a through-line but not much, and we observers don’t miss it at all.

Grownups pretending to be kids ought be intolerable, but the Ghent men (particularly the men) in this cast go directly to their inner six-year-olds. They are utterly individual, honest and charming.

Matthew W. Coviello gets Charlie Brown’s weary cluelessness just right, and he makes surviving rudeness and injustice in a tight little social circle a lesson in creative self-deprecation.

In some of musical theater’s strongest character songs (Suppertime, Me and My Blanket, and Beethoven’s Birthday, My New Philosophy), each character is offered a well-written star turn.

Mark Schane-Lydon has Suppertime. He is an adorable Snoopy. Not sugary-yuk-adorable but the real thing out of innocence and human doggyness. He is Spot-on throughout the evening, except in his star turn, where better singing and a bit more attention from the choreographer would help.

Zach Fenoff’s Linus is both crisp and loveable. He makes the most of Me and My Blanket, with dancer-ish movement and perfectly timed addictive behaviors. The number is especially well-staged.

The peak of the evening, however, is Michael Meier as Schroeder in Beethoven’s Birthday. Who would think that a tall (6′ 4”?), gangly, adult male would create the show’s most convincing child? It doesn’t hurt that, besides being able to act, besides being able to find the body language of a kid, Meier can sing!

The two women are both attractive, although two whiney speaking voices (all located in a similar pitch range) become wearying after a while.

Erin M. White as Sally is surprising and imaginative in her star turn, My New Philosophy.

With Christina Smith as Lucy, obnoxiousness of voice bleeds from the character onto the actress. Playing the part of an almost totally relentless, obnoxious character is difficult. It is tempting to blame the author. A larger portion of Lucy-redeeming social value would be welcome.

Of all human dark sides, that of serving-self is the one Schulz and Gerson love most to gleefully expose. In the realm of funny-dark, there is Charlie’s self-loathing, Linus’ blanket-addiction and thumb-sucking, Lucy’s superiority complex and mindless cruelty. After gently swatting us all evening with character weaknesses and neuroses, the composer suddenly offers a group love-fest in a finale called Happiness. It’s a spoonful of sugar to make the foibles go down, and even if the mind objects, the heart embraces.

Catherine Schane-Lydon’ s little ensemble (two keyboards, flute, and percussion) sounds good tutti; and it irritates only occasionally with a few bars of cleanly played but grating, solo electric piano. C. Schane-Lydon has a just-right rhythmic groove in the jazzy numbers, and with more performances, the rest of the folks (on stage and in pit) will probably get with it.

Choreographer Zachary Pearson drags out all the old, familiar dance moves, and they, along with Bill Visscher’s set and Joanne Maurer’s costumes, seem absolutely right in Charlie Brown’s world.

This thing is fun! See it!… through June 5. Reserve seats by phone at 518 392-6264.

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