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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review
You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown
I'm embarrassed to admit that Charles Schultz's classic comic strip Peanuts was not part of either my childhood or early 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 was captivated by the sweetly whimsical musical on which it is based and which is here for the holidays at the Two River Theater Company. Although I dimly recall seeing both the original 1967 Off-Broadway musical version and the more gussied-up Broadway revival in 1999, the particulars have mostly evaporated in the mist of time.
For no good reason other than we own and use a complete set of Camp Snoopy water glasses I was prepared to respond enthusiastically, as was Ben my very wise six-year old grandson, to the adult-like philosophizing of these quizzical and quirky kids and one wonder 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 nuances that surface from repeated viewings. It's a mostly polka-dotted world that set designer David P. Gordon has created with some variations on that theme from costume designer Devon Painter. Together they have framed the fun and the funsters brightly and cleverly.
The variety of Matt Pfeiffer's direction is as commendable as his casting. This makes for a delightful visit with six disarming characters, all of whom are kept mighty busy in a show made up entirely of quick-as-a-wink, over-in-a-flash skits, songs and dances. Perched aloft behind a scrim, three musicians play the perky score with verve.
This production includes the two new songs (for the 1999 Broadway production) contributed by Andrew Lippa that augment the original not-too-icky lyrics and book by Clark Gesner. Lippa's "My New Philosophy" is close to a showstopper for Erin Weaver who plays Sally. That's right. Some of you older folk may not remember Sally from the original production. . . because she wasn't in it. She was written in to replace Patty from the original production, who is not to be confused with Peppermint Patty. Confused? Don't be. With a head of platinum curls and a voice that belts out her songs and spiel, Weaver gives fiercely funny performance as Charlie Brown's feisty, rabbit-hunting kid sister Sally.
Richard Ruiz is a scene-stealer as the day-dreaming Snoopy who challenges the high-flying Red Baron in a hair-raising dogfight. Linus, as appealingly played by Matt Mundy, made us all feel the comfort of "My Blanket and Me, " as did choreographer Suli Holum who devised a charming blanket dance for the company. Lauren Singerman audaciously captures the unrelieved bossiness of the admittedly mean-spirited yet still adorably crabby Lucy.
Wide-eyed Doug Hara, as Charlie Brown, is the very model of eternal optimism. It is impossible not to tender affectionate feelings for Jordan Barbour's Schroeder whose tenacious fondness for Beethoven is expressed in the wonderful song (by Lippa) "Beethoven Day." The show's most popular song, "Happiness," is a sentiment that is easy to hold on to as you leave the theater.
The cast returns to the stage after each show to answer questions from the mostly very perceptive and observant children in the audience. "Is that your real hair," one little girl wanted to know. "No, it's a wig, but I wish it was my hair," answered Weaver who plays Sally.