Producing “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown”

"You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" Poster & Logo

"You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" Poster & Logo

You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown Music, book and lyrics by Clark Gesner

Performance length: about 2 and ½ hrs. with a 15-minute intermission

ACTING: Easy

MUSIC: Easy

SET DESIGN: Easy

COSTUME DESIGN: Medium

GENRE: Musical

CAST POTENTIAL: While the cast size is rather small (only 6 characters), your cast will enjoy bringing these childhood favorites to life.

CROWD REACTION: While not a commercial success on Broadway, this play has been very well received in the regional and community theatre market. It’s small, intimate oeuvre make it suitable for smaller houses. Also, given the perennial influence Charles Schulz’s Peanuts have had, children and adults can enjoy this show with a similar sense of wonder.

You can buy this artwork and use it for your own production of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” click here

SUMMARY: Based on the classic Schulz comic strip, the musical is a compilation of skits and monologues revolving around Charlie Brown and his friends, including Lucy, Linus, Schroeder, Sally, and his imaginative dog, Snoopy. We follow Charlie through a day of book reports, baseball, and kite flying as he tries to discover what makes a “good man.”

CASTING CONSIDERATIONS: Perhaps the biggest challenge of this piece is recreating Schulz’s classic cartoon characters. Because of their iconic and revered status in American culture, every audience member is both expert and critic. So, while the actors must confront their audience’s expectations, they must also imbue the characters with their own unique personality in order to make the characters fresh and new on stage. It is also important to note that, while these Peanuts are all entirely unique, their personalities are subtle and understated, both in the comic strip and musical. That is part of Schulz’s genius but also why representing Charlie or Snoopy on stage is a monumental task. Keep the performances honest. Honor the naivety that comes with these children, but also the surprising wisdom found in their words.

Cast size is very small: 4M, 2W. Also, the Broadway revival was wise in casting “blind” in regards to race. I thought it made the shows appeal all that much more universal.

SCENIC CONSIDERATIONS: Fortunately, every scenic designer has a blue print established by Schulz’s himself. No need to look further than his drawings for inspiration. Most productions have kept the costumes identical to the themes and colors in the comic strip. Most also keep the set simple: cut-out pieces colored with pastels and primary colors. The production should look a living comic strip. And the simplicity of the design should also belie the profundity of the message on stage.

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS:This musical seems to have the most success when the production is intimate and simple. Ben Brantley panned the Broadway revival ten years ago for trying to create showstoppers where there are none. This is not Les Miserables or Wicked. The draw and pleasure for this musical come purely from its source material, so there is no need to “jazz” it up for the audience’s concern. Their attention and admiration will be earned if the characters they love are represented truthfully.

PERSONAL REFLECTIONS: The success of Schulz’s creation is remarkable. The strip endured for over 50 years and therefore has influenced generation after generation. Children today are still drawn to its familiarity, so a musical production based on this comic is an undeniable choice. And this musical honors all the qualities that made Peanuts so irresistible in the first place. Songs like “Happiness,” “Suppertime,” “My New Philosophy,” and “Beethoven Day” are catchy, fun, and capture the essence of the comic strip.

About Matthew McMahan

Matthew McMahan is an actor, writer, and dramaturg, who has worked both in New York and regionally for theatre companies such as the Wooster Group, the Atlantic Theatre Company, the Indiana Repertory Theatre, Young Playwrights, Inc., and the Living Newspaper. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Drama from Tufts University in Medford, MA.
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