Thursday, May 31, 2012


JOHN COULBOURN, Special to TorSun
31 MAY 2012
R: 3.5/5

Pictured: Stephen Patterson as Snoopy

STRATFORD — You were a good man, Charlie Brown — so good, in fact, that after you premiered in 1967, you became the most produced musical in American musical theatre history, chalking up productions from coast to coast here in Canada, too. Then in the late ’90s, Michael Mayer and Andrew Lippa convinced you that in modern Broadway parlance, you either had to go big or go home, Clark Gesner’s beloved 1967 book, music and lyrics got a makeover for the 21st century and a new Broadway version was born. And, based on the Stratford Festival’s production of that version that opened on the Avon stage Wednesday, there’s no question that you’ve gotten bigger, Charlie Brown — but some might wish you’d opted to just go home instead.

Because frankly, despite the added songs and dialogue, they don’t seem to have added much to your charms, Chuck. In fact, in this often self-satisfied over-production, directed and choreographed by Donna Feore, you just may be down a quart or two. Still, with Ken James Stewart in the title role, you get a pretty fair shake, although James is too often just a touch too knowing.

On the plus side, thanks to the visual clamour created by the collision of Michael Gianfresco’s set, Dana Osborne’s costumes, Sean Nieuwenhuis’ video designs and Kimberly Purtell’s lighting, you’ll find that shadings of charm and innocence are inclined to disappear in a world drenched in vivid primary colours. As a fan of continuity, you might be a little distressed too to find some of your best friends, as created by Charles M. Schulz, have changed. A lot.

Your laid-back beagle Snoopy, for instance, seems at first to have been transformed into a hyperkinetic Jack Russell as played by Stephen Patterson, but as he gets caught up in video games and otherwise portraying the cool dude, you’ll realize he’s abandoned his dog’s life and now aspires so much to humanity that for entire scenes, he lets us forget he’s a dog at all. Similarly, Erica Peck seems to have civilized your old friend Lucy, who no longer takes the same joy in putting you down and, while Amy Wallis’ Sally fills the gap left by Patty when she was summarily evicted by re-write, she’s certainly no Kristin Chenoweth, although she gives a game try.

But Andrew Broderick’s Schroeder brings a bit of street cred to the ‘hood while staying down with Beethoven and as for Kevin Yee’s Linus, thankfully he’s just what he’s always been — wise beyond his years and utterly delightful.

You’re a soft-spoken guy, Charlie, so it might upset you to discover that in musical theatre today, bigger and louder have become synonymous — and between Laura Burton’s musical direction and Peter McBoyle’s soundscape, you might leave the theatre suffering from tinnitus. Don’t worry, it’s not unusual in a man of your age, and it won’t last more than an hour or two. Finally, there will be purists, Charlie, who suggest you were better in your younger, more innocent incarnation — and hey, who of us wasn’t? But pay us no mind: Without you, the Stratford Festival could never have proved they are at least as good as every theatre school and community theatre group that’s produced your show over the past 45 years.

You may not be To Kill A Mockingbird — but, for giving this Festival that chance, at least, YOU'RE (still) A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN

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