Six Characters in Search of Happiness
You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown
If there’s one sure thing in this world, it’s that the Marriott Lincolnshire Theatre really knows how to cast, direct and produce excellent, energetic and exciting productions for young audiences. While this isn’t the first time the Theatre has presented this 60-minute version of Clark Gesner’s delightfully infectious musical, it’s got to be one of their very best.
The show is based on Charles Schultz’s beloved comic strip, made even more famous through the TV cartoon specials that are often shown around various holidays. The musical features six of the series most popular characters, all in search of their own personal “Happiness.” The play is comprised of a series of short scenes, monologues, solos and production numbers, all centering around a typical day in the life of Charlie Brown. This new streamlined version of the musical eliminates several of the slower original vignettes and a couple songs, but adds material that’s more kid-friendly and reworks the orchestrations and ups most of the tempos. The result is a terrific show that speeds along with the kind of briskness that holds a youngster’s attention, from start to finish.
This production is made glorious by the multitalented Linda Fortunato, who both directs and choreographs. The production’s pacing is perfect and there’s just enough dance steps to add color and spice to some of the musical numbers, such as the titular opening song, Linus’ “My Blanket and Me” and Schroeder’s “Beethoven Day.” “Suppertime” is always an hilarious highlight of this musical, and as performed by Andres Enriquez as Snoopy, it’s simply sensational. The actor also demonstrates some incredible comic timing in Snoopy’s musical soliloquy atop his doghouse. In fact, throughout the entire play Andres’ performance is brilliant!
Patrick Michael Tierney makes a wonderful, strong Charlie Brown. He’s another actor with a great voice and perfect comedic styling. As a little boy who wakes up early to watch the sun rise, hoping this day will be a good one, Charlie Brown is like everyone of us. Patrick makes “The Kite” a mission of perseverance and hope, with his goal to keep the toy airborne, until, sadly it isn’t. Then he tries to be optimistic leading the gang to a victory in “T-E-A-M (The Baseball Game,” but being Charlie Brown, things don’t work out well. But by the end of the show, the boy with the crush on a certain Little Red-haired Girl finds that his day hasn’t been so bad after all.
A Windy City comic favorite, Jackson Evans is remarkable as Linus. Last seen at the Marriott in “A Christmas Story,” as well as in countless productions across Chicagoland, Evans makes a welcome return. He’s joined by the entire cast in a Fred Astaire-inspired Ziegfield Follies number with his blanket. Mr. Evans’ Linus shrewdly understands how some fast talking enables him to outsmart the older kids, and he shows his friends that he’s a master of trivia and useless knowledge.
The lovely and talented Amanda Walker, who greatly impressed as Minnie Fay in Marriott’s “Hello Dolly” and as Keira Knightly in Apollo Theater’s “Love, Actually?” parody, is a dazzling pink ball of sunshine as Sally. With a voice like Kristin Chenoweth, Ms. Walker turns “My New Philosophy” into one very funny musical highlight of this production. She’s joined in this number with Matthew Bettencourt as Schroeder, who also impresses with their rendition of the production number, “Beethoven Day.” And a relative newcomer to the Chicago Theatre Scene, Tafadzwa Diener makes a big splash as Lucy, the Queen of Crabbiness. She takes complete charge in her duet with Charlie Brown, “The Doctor is In.”And Ms. Diener’s Lucy, against her Aunt Marion’s advice, foolishly tries to discuss marriage with a musician while serenading her boyfriend, “Schroeder” to the tune of “Moonlight Sonata.”
A whole crew of gifted theatre artists help bring this show to life. Rick Bertone serves both as Musical Director and the Conductor of the production’s three member instrumental accompaniment. Patrick Ham has designed just enough scenery and props to make the cartoon live, illuminated by Lee Fiskness’ superb lighting design and featuring a sound design of twittering birds and ringing bells by Rick Sims. Evelyn Danner and Megan Pirtle have fashioned some colorful, character-appropriate costumes and wigs to convince the audience that Charlie Brown and his friends are there telling their story.
The Marriott Theatre is a unique experience because it presents musicals in-the-round. Since all the children and their accompanying grownup are seated entirely surrounding the stage, there’s not a bad view anywhere. Each audience member, both young and old, can fully see and hear everything happening in this show. And, as an added treat, Jackson Evans hosts a short meet-and-greet talkback following each performance. There younger patrons have an opportunity to ask the cast questions about anything at all. It’s fun and informative and adds a lot to this wonderful production even more personal.