- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 4, 2000

The "Peanuts" gang is such an unshakable part of many people's lives — especially if you are a baby boomer — it is difficult to wrap your mind around the fact that Charles Schulz died in February and there will be no new adventures with Snoopy, Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus and the others.

What "Peanuts" gave us is a hit parade of pop culture from the '60s through today — the security blanket, the Red Baron, the phrases "Good Grief" and "Rats!", the Great Pumpkin, the character of Joe Cool, the axiom "Happiness is a warm puppy," "The Gospel According to Peanuts," and NASA's Apollo 10 mission launching the first beagle in space.

So Round House's jubilant production of "You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown" is at once a feast of nostalgia and a fresh revival in its own right. It is also a balloon-bright celebration of Mr. Schulz's contribution to the world through his humble, hand-drawn comic strip.

The 33-year-old musical — which played in the '60s at Shady Grove Music Fair — was revived on Broadway last year and won two Tony Awards. It is every bit as adorable as you might remember it, even more so with an updated book that takes advantage of 50 years of "Peanuts" strips, the addition of two blissfully boppy songs, "Beethoven Day" and "New Philosophy" by Andrew Lippa, and with Charlie Brown's carefree, language-mangling sister, Sally, joining the cast.

Your heart is won over at the first glance of Tony Cisek's set, consisting mainly of a backdrop of colorful panels that resemble a comic strip. From time to time, Mr. Schulz's signature squiggly clouds flit across the panels, providing a fitting setting for show's tender and wise musical comedy.

The musical is a series of vignettes taking us through a typical day in Peanuts-land. Charlie Brown sits alone at lunch with his peanut butter sandwich ("the sandwich of choice for losers," he notes) and pines for the Little Red-Haired Girl, Lucy bosses everybody around and dispenses brusque psychiatric advice for a nickel, Schroeder plays Beethoven on a toy piano, Linus ponders the big questions while hanging onto his blankie, Sally aggressively struggles with schoolwork and her ever-changing attitude about life and Snoopy grooves on the best things in life — supper time, a good scratch on the belly, his boundless imagination.

There are no dramatic epiphanies or surprises — no deconstructionist Peanuts here. Charlie Brown never properly flies a kite or wins a baseball game, Lucy never wins Schroeder's affection, Linus never gives up his security blanket — but they keep trying, and that's the comforting thing.

What does exist are some dynamic ensemble pieces, notably "The Book Report," a humorous round-robin featuring the gang's various approaches to a book report on "Peter Rabbit," and "Glee Club Recital," where everyone snipes and bickers in between singing "Home on the Range."

Director Jerry Whiddon smartly keeps things as primary-colored, simple and expertly arranged as a Sunday installment of "Peanuts." He has assembled an enviable cast of musical talent — Michael Sharp (Charlie Brown), Sheri L. Edelen (Sally), Donna Migliaccio (Lucy), Eric Lee Johnson (Schroeder) and J.J. Kaczynski (Snoopy).

Dressed in Rosemary Pardee's wittily adult-sized versions of the clothes we know so well, Mr. Whiddon lets the cast loose onstage to joyfully embody the Peanuts gang. And for the most part, they do a terrific job. Miss Magliaccio is a Wagnerian Lucy, bellowing her lines and songs "The Doctor is In" and "Little Known Facts" with consummate crabbiness and bravura. Like Lucy, Miss Magliaccio is unstoppable. You just make way for her marvelously outsized self.

Miss Edelen is terrific as Sally, wavering between quivery softness and a hilarious outspoken umbrage at the injustices she sees everywhere around her. One minute she's a chip off the old block, sounding like her big brother when she slumps by, saying "I don't know I was jumping rope and everything was fine and then it all seemed so futile" and the next minute she's railing magnificently against the "C" she earned on her coat-hanger sculpture. Miss Edelen's big number, "My New Philosophy," has her changing personalities with astonishing swiftness as she adopts one new attitude after another.

As her big brother, Mr. Sharp so personifies the eternally-tested optimist Charlie Brown that you just want to pat him on his round, bald head. His voice is exceptional as well, full of hurt and yearning, with glints of happiness shining through.

Mr. Johnson sunnily embodies the musician who just wants to be left alone, and he shines on Beethoven Day, a clever tribute to the composer that integrates many of his famous pieces. Mr. Johnson even sneaks in a Stevie Wonder reference and gospel-grandstanding jokes here and there. Mr. Gilbert seems a bit tentative in his approach to Linus, making the pint-sized philosopher and intellect seem too odd and retiring. And while Mr. Kaczynski is bristling with canine energy as Snoopy, he is trying so hard you can see the work he's putting into capturing the effortlessly happy beagle.

"You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown" is a potent and giddy reminder of what "Peanuts" has meant to us over the years — and the joy it continues to give.

{*}{*}{*}{*}WHAT: "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown"WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Through Dec. 3WHERE: Round House Theatre, 12210 Bushey Drive, Silver Spring, Md.TICKETS: $21-$28PHONE: 301/933-1644

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