Charlie Brown at the regional high school
It's a stop and start rehearsal of this weekend's production of "You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown" at the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School, but the pauses are filled with the percolating energy of cast and crew - constant motion, miming, dancing, he-said-she-said chatter - all done with dramatic flair.
Something about being in a high school production seems to bundle all of the distinct personalities into a tight and affectionate unit. Clearly, everyone's in it together and it's diligent and controlled commotion carried out with conspicuous respect.
Photos by Alan Brigish
Production manager Kirkland Beck reminds them to hang up their costumes properly, explaining the importance. The high school's drama teacher and the show's director, Kate Murray, together with choreographer Lianna Loughman, an agent with Wallace & Co. Realty, offer straightforward instructions and selective directions with please and thank you patience, and the cast of 32 responds in kind.
The indefatigable Ms. Murray reminds the cast: "You're cartoon characters, so exaggerate."
Hannah Marlin, who shares the role of Lucy with Emily Mercier, enjoys that aspect. "I treat Lucy as a real person to an extent. She stomps around. I love to play brats. In real life, I don't like to give a ton of attitude, so it's really fun to express my pent-up feelings." And she adds, "I was made for this part. You can always be a kid again."
And Jerome Pikor, who takes turns with Austin Gampfer as Charlie Brown, adds, "To be a cartoon character is pretty cool because you can just go crazy. [Charlie's] a depressed underdog who just doesn't give up."
Rehearsals begin with assistant stage manager, student Mariah Mackenzie, gathering the cast into a circle and taking them through their warm-up stretching and vocalizing exercises. With the enthusiasm of a drill sergeant she paces around the circle: "The way you yelled was completely wrong," she tells them. "Yell from your diaphragm." And the cast complies.
There are two casts performing on different nights, and the leads take turns shifting in and out of the chorus. Based on Charles M. Schulz's "Peanuts" comic strip, with book, music and lyrics by Clark Gesner, the 1999 award-winning musical, revised from its original 1967 Broadway debut, is composed of a collection of short vignettes with bouncy songs, and familiar, endearing characters - Snoopy, Lucy, Schroeder, and Charlie's sister, Sally (a role shared by Emma Frizzell and Rosie Bick) - who sing, dance and extol the frailties of Charlie Brown.
Sally explains, "The only thing wrong with my big brother, Charlie Brown, is his lack of confidence; his clumsiness, his inferiority - his lack of confidence."
Poor Charlie Brown: Valentine's Day without even one Valentine, a kite that won't fly, eating alone in the cafeteria - and when the little red-haired girl, the unseen object of his affection, looks at him, he hides by putting his lunch bag over his head. He reasons, "I can't tell if she's looking, until I take it off. Then again, if I never take it off I'll never have to know if she was looking or not."
Played in turn by Christian Walter and Becker Awqatty, Schroeder offers his faint praise: "Charlie Brown has never pitched a winning baseball game, never been able to keep a kite in the air, never won a game of checkers and never successfully punted a football? Sometimes I marvel at his consistency."
About Charlie's "Failure Face," Lucy rhapsodizes, "You rarely see such a good example."
We meet all the characters. Linus: "Sucking your thumb without a blanket is like eating a cone without ice cream." Lucy: "Do you see this tree? It's called a fir tree because it gives us fir coats." And then there's Snoopy (Katie Clarke and Taylor Stone), the World War I Flying Ace atop his doghouse in his Sopwith Camel as he searches for the Red Baron.
The musical presents a day in the life of an optimistic but flawed little every-man with all its wins and losses, ups and downs translated into humor. When evening comes everyone's thoughts turn to their idea of what happiness is, and at last, all agree: Charlie Brown is a good man.
It's a funny, uncomplicated romp with high-frequency kids playing kids, set to rousing music under the direction of Michael Tinus (orchestra) and the show's conductor and vocal director, Jan Wightman. Musical numbers include "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown," "My Blanket and Me," "The Kite," "The Baseball Game," "Little Known Facts," and "Happiness."
"You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown," Performing Arts Center, Martha's Vineyard Regional High School, Oak Bluffs, Thursday, Feb. 12, and Friday, Feb. 13 at 7 pm, and Saturday, Feb. 14 at 2 pm and 7 pm. $10; $7 students.