The Heights Players’ production of the wholesome classic, “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” manages to capture some of Charles Schulz’s rich combination of childhood wonderment and adulthood existential crises, though it remains a mystery why the theater would put on a kids show at 8 pm.
Though it was undeniably brilliant and influential, “Peanuts” is the perfect example of art commercialized beyond recognition. The musical, written by late Brooklyn Heights resident Clark Gesner and originally performed in 1967 when Schulz was at the peak of his powers, mostly attempts to recreate the experience of reading a four-panel Peanuts strip through short vignettes that feature Snoopy reflecting on how much he loves the sky, or Lucy’s romantic frustration as Schroeder pounds away on his piano, ignoring her dreams of marriage.
This formula is not without its flaws: The musical lacks any central narrative, and while the quick gags might be a hit with kids, parents may find them exhausting by the time the two-hour performance reaches its last song.
Still, the actors did a solid job of capturing the central aspects of each character — Charlie Brown can’t catch a break, Lucy is an annoying know-it-all, Snoopy is perfectly content, and Linus, well, he has his blanket. Heather DiBianco’s powerful voice was perfect for Lucy’s tyrannical ways, and Eason Smith stole the show with an entertaining portrayal of Snoopy’s daydream as a World War I pilot on the hunt for his nemesis, the Red Baron.
But all wholesomeness aside, one can’t help but wonder why the cast dispensed with Schultz’s hilarious facial expressions, which are so fundamental to his cartoons. Look at the final panel of any Peanuts strip, and you will likely see Charlie Brown saying “Good grief” with a frown on his face and a scribbled cloud over his head, perfectly capturing the frustration of youth. The cast of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” rarely achieved such expressive moments.
That opening night at the Heights Players’ Willow Place theater, there were only three kids in attendance. Still, it seemed they had greatly enjoyed the show. The Butcher, on the other hand, enjoyed the $2 Budweisers, but grew tired when this feel-good show ran a bit long.
Suddenly, a MetLife commercial with Snoopy frolicking around didn’t sound so unappealing.
“You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” at the Heights Players [26 Willow Pl. between Joralemon and State streets in Brooklyn Heights, (718) 237-2752] will run through Dec. 20. Showtimes are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, and Sunday at 2 pm. Tickets, $20 (kids and seniors, $18).