American comedian W.C. Fields is credited with the adage, “Never work with children or animals.” Fortunately for us, Director Michael Unger and the York Theatre Company has defied such wisdom with their charming production of You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown.
The new treatment of the 1967 musical casts amazingly talented and accomplished children in the roles of: Charlie Brown (Joshua Colley), Schroeder (Gregory Diaz), Snoopy (Aidan Gemme), Lucy (Mavis Simpson-Ernst), Linus (Jeremy T. Villas), and a new character that was developed for the 1999 Broadway revival, Sally (Milly Shapiro).
Clark Gesner’s original book, music, and lyrics have been enhanced with additional dialogue by Michael Mayer and new music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa. Gesner based the premise on the classic Charles M. Schultz comic strip, Peanuts.
On the surface, the show is little more than vignettes and sketches pieced together with some catchy melodies. Look closer, however, and you’ll notice subtle life lessons: overcoming fear, tackling the feeling of being left out, cooperating with siblings. Lessons like these are swift reminders for both children and parents.
Each of these kids has at least one Broadway credit to their names, and it is no surprise. They all have their moments to shine and are delivering first rate performances—especially Colley. Earlier this year, he nearly stopped the show in the Broadway bound musical, A Bronx Tale at Paper Mill Playhouse. Colley’s Charlie Brown is sensitive, vulnerable, and heart-warming. There is little doubt that this young actor has a long, successful stage career ahead.
Gemme is also a stand-out as the daydreaming Snoopy. His ode to mealtime, “Suppertime,” is a laugh-out-loud moment and simply adorable.
Forget the over-hyped Disney nonsense—this is the perfect family fare. Although Peanuts is not nearly as popular as it once was, Gesner’s show will appeal to a new audience. Furthermore, the tickets are significantly cheaper, the staging more intimate, and you don’t have to fight your way through Times Square to see it. If that’s not the definition of “happiness,” I’m not sure what is.
You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown
York Theatre Company
619 Lexington Avenue
Through June 26
Ryan Leeds is a freelance theater journalist who lives in Manhattan. He is the Chief Theater Critic for Manhattan Digest and a frequent contributor to Dramatics Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @Ry_Runner or on Facebook.