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Broadway Review: `Charlie Brown’
This review by Simon Saltzman was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper
on March 17, 1999. All rights reserved.
I‘m embarrassed to admit that Charles Schultz’s classic
comic strip "Peanuts" has not been part of either my childhood
or adulthood. However, I’m happy to report that, even without any
long-term inside track on these enduring characters and their daily
confrontations with the mysteries of life, I rather enjoyed the gentle,
respectfully whimsical musical on which it is based. Although I do
have memories of the original 1967 Off-Broadway musical version, this
up-scale Broadway-size rendering seems altogether new… and disarming.
That it would still look better in a smaller house Off-Broadway is
a moot point.
For no apparent reason, except that we own and use a complete set
of Camp Snoopy glasses, I was prepared to surrender to the adult-like
philosophizing of these quizzical and quirky kids and one wonderful
dog. Whether or not you have had to sit through one too many school
or amateur productions of this perennial favorite, you surely haven’t
gotten all the pleasures that this amusingly staged, terrifically
acted, and wittily designed production offers. It is to the show’s
good fortune that designers David Gallo (sets) and Michael Krass (costumes)
have framed the fun and the funsters brightly and blithely.
The unending variety and cleverness of Michael Mayer’s direction ("Side
Man," "A View from the Bridge," "Triumph of Love"),
is furthered with his casting of indisputably adult performers. This
makes for an unusually daring and successful visual conceit. The six
performers lend a polished innocence to the newly imagined quick-as-a-wink,
over-in-a flash skits, songs, and dances. Mayer has initiated substantial
changes. The initiated may be interested to know that 17 of the 42
original sketches have been cut and 21 new sketches have been added.
For the uninitiated, enough of them hit the bull’s-eye to make up
for the few that land kerplop.
Andrew Lippa has augmented the original sweet, not-too-sticky lyrics
and book by Clark Gesner with two new songs and some new musical material.
Lippa’s "My New Philosophy" is a showstopper for Kristin Chenoweth,
who plays Sally. That’s right, you don’t remember Sally from the original
production because she wasn’t in it. She has been written in to replace
Patty from the original production, who is not to be confused with
Peppermint Patty. Confused? Don’t be. Hallowed by a head of swirling
curls that won’t quit and a voice to match, Chenoweth gives a ferociously
funny performance as Charlie Brown’s feisty, rabbit-hunting kid sister.
If Chenoweth appears to be an unwitting scene-stealer, there is plenty
of space for Roger Bart’s daydreaming Snoopy to challenge the high-flying
"Red Baron" in a hair-raising dogfight, and B. D. Wong to
make us all feel the comfort of "My Blanket and Me." If Ilana
Levine is constrained by the unrelieved bossiness of the admittedly
mean-spirited Lucy, and wide-eyed Anthony Rapp is hampered by his
eternal optimism, we cannot fault their flawless interpretations.
And who can not have respect for Mathis’ Schroeder whose tenacious
fondness for Beethoven is expressed in a wonderful new song (also
by Lippa), "Beethoven Day."
Still featured for the finale is the show’s most popular song, "Happiness,"
a sentiment worth holding onto as you leave the theater. Although
this is what is known as a perfect family entertainment, you might
make an effort to avoid the stiff $75 top ticket price, and head for
the TKTS booth at Duffy Square for half-price seats. HHH
— Simon Saltzman
219 West 49 Street, 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200. $15 to $75.
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