Friday, June 1, 2012

You’re an even better dog, Snoopy

Snoopy (Stephen Patterson) is set to do air battle with the infamous Red Baron. (Cylla von Tiedermann photo)

You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown
Stratford Shakespeare Festival
Presented by Schulich Children’s Plays
Book, music and lyrics by Clark Gesner
Additional dialogue by Michael Mayer
Additional music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa
Directed and choreographed by Donna Feore
Avon Theatre
Runs until October 28

Review by Geoff Dale

When Charles Schultz started a cartoon strip for the St. Paul Pioneer Press back in 1947 he called it L’il Folks. It flopped.

Three years later he repackaged the material, selling it to the United Features Syndicate, which promptly changed the name to Peanuts. While the name stuck, Schultz initially disliked the new title because he felt it lacked “dignity and significance.”

Nonetheless it’s been around in various forms of print, screen and stage for more than six decades.

In 1967 the lean but very popular musical production You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown hit the off-Broadway circuit with the likes of Gary Burghoff (M.A.S.H.) as the round-headed hero Charlie and Bob Balaban (Seinfeld, Gosford Park) as the security blanket hugging Linus.

After taking in the opening night of the Stratford Festival’s charming version of You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown, Schultz might have opted for yet another name switch – this time perhaps choosing You’re A Good Dog, Snoopy.

With all due respects to the fine company of  young actors/singers/dancers portraying the other five characters, it was simply that the two-hour musical ended up being something of a showcase for the brilliantly funny and extremely agile Stephen Patterson in the role of Charlie’s independent-minded dog – a canine that clearly lives in his own separate dimension.

The cynics among us might suggest that Snoopy’s bravado number atop his doghouse called Suppertime, was a tad over-the-top, and with some justification. When his simply-structured wooden home split wide open, revealing a staircase for the canine to do a dazzling dance down, it appears as if the household pet had transported himself back in time – specifically to Tuesday’s opening night of 42nd Street.

That aside, the third-year Festival veteran Patterson – who previously appeared in Camelot, Jesus Christ Superstar, Jacques Brel in Stratford and Les Misérables on Broadway– charmed the audience of both young and old, demonstrating he is a virtuoso musical star of considerable merit.

Along for the ride was Ken James Stewart as the ever-hopeful yet never-fulfilled Charlie Brown – a youthful case of depression that would have any shrink, aside from Lucy, licking his/her lips with anticipation.

Erica Peck shows that her Lucy, while raising bossiness and self-centeredness to a high art form, also proves without question to be the premiere singer of the troupe – a vocalist with equal measures of power, control and emotion wallop.

Andrew Schroeder’s Beethoven-loving Schroeder is not only true to Schultz’s creation but also, thanks to some generous musical updates, comes off with a bit of a swagger and youthful hipness lacking in earlier characterizations.

Still woefully insecure but sheepishly philosophical, Kevin Yee is a delightfully mixed-up Linus, strutting his stuff in the number My Blanket and Me.

Charlie’s younger sister Sally, as played by Amy Wallis, has moments of youthful rebellion but sadly has to contend, along with Schroeder, with the underwhelming song My New Philosophy.

Michael Gianfrancesco’s relatively simple set and the video work of Sean Nieuwenhuis complement the company’s theatrical efforts focusing on love, frustration and friendship, although at times some of the visuals come off as minor distractions in need of being toned down.

Director/choreographer Donna Feore (Oliver, Oklahoma) clearly knows her stuff, ultimately creating a lively, engaging and energetic package that should please all family members throughout its run until late October.

While a good portion of the music may not be in the realm of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Irving Berlin or Cole Porter, there are enough catchy pieces to keep the pace moving along quite briskly for two hours.

In the end, how can anyone resist the aeronautic marvels of World War 1 ace pilot Snoopy as he does battle with the nefarious Red Baron?

A fun evening for the whole family gets *** out of 4 stars.

Approximate running time: 2 hours
Tickets: 1-800-567-1600 or online

This review is also posted online at: The Beat


  1. Oh, what fun to come here and find Geoff's review. Love it, and love the photo. Is that you, Geoff? Bet Gray would make a great Red Baron.

  2. I have always loved Peanuts. Hope you are well Elaine XXX Don