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Matt Tracy as Schroeder is taken aback by Catherine Hayashi as Lucy. (Bonnijean Cooney Adams photo, special to Tube City Almanac)
If you go...
“You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown”
Where: McKeesport Little Theater, 1614 Coursin St.
When: Sept. 13-29, with Friday and Saturday shows at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.
Tickets: $18 for adults, $12 for students.
Reservations or more information: 412-673-1100 or through the website.
McKeesport Little Theater kicks off its new season with three weekends of the family-friendly musical, “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.”
The show made its Off-Broadway debut in 1967, based on characters created by cartoonist Charles M. Schulz in his Peanuts comic strip. It opened on Broadway in 1971, with a revival in 1999 that led to a Tony Award for actor Kristin Chenoweth.
Lora Oxenreiter returns to MLT as director and set designer for the production, which opens today (Sept. 13).
“We are doing the 1999 revival that has a few new numbers,” Oxenreiter said.
Featured are Scott Thompson as Charlie Brown, Adam Wainwright as Snoopy, Ben Blinn as blanket-toting Linus, Matt Tracy as piano prodigy Schroeder, Anneke Elmhirst as Charlie Brown’s sister Sally, and Catherine Hayashi as opinionated Lucy. The producer is Phillip Boatright.
Although Oxenreiter never directed “Charlie Brown” before, she said years ago she designed a production for the original version of the show.
“The original production of ‘You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,’ was done with just a few different-shaped blocks painted in primary colors,” she said. “They represent children’s building blocks that become set pieces like a sofa or a school bench. Since all the characters are ages 4 to 6 years old, it makes sense.
The cast is ready to open a new season for McKeesport Little Theater with "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown." In front is Adam Wainwright as Snoopy, with Matt Tracy as Schroeder, Anneke Elmhirst as Sally and Catherine Hayashi as Lucy in the middle, and Scott Thompson as Charlie Brown and Ben Blinn as Linus in back. (Bonnijean Cooney Adams photo, special to Tube City Almanac)
“The one block that is consistent is Snoopy’s dog house. The revival took a different take on the set and all of the set pieces were more realistic,” the director said. “But I really liked the original concept better because it makes you think creatively. Simple blocks can become what you want them to be. So I designed the set to reflect that.”
Oxenreiter said she never worked with any of the actors before, but like any director during auditions, got a first impression of what role would fit them best.
“Ben Blinn, who is playing Linus, has done the role before and was a natural,” she said.
Scott Thompson as Charlie Brown munches a sandwich and ponders life. (Bonnijean Cooney Adams photo, special to Tube City Almanac)
Since “Charlie Brown” is a musical, the cast also is expected to dance –- in a young child sort of way. Samantha Mitchell, well known for her work in community theaters and as a dance instructor, choreographed the show.
“Samantha’s choreography is perfect for this show,” Oxenreiter said. “None of the cast members are dancers so she had a big challenge. The fact that the characters are all young children and, of course, one dog, the dances are simple and that works perfectly for this show.”
She said she’s always loved “Happiness” and “Book Report” from the original, but there are several new songs in the revival that could become favorites as well.
Anneke Elmhirst as Sally tries a blast on a bugle to awaken Adam Wainwright as Snoopy. (Bonnijean Cooney Adams photo, special to Tube City Almanac)
“ ‘My Philosophy,’ sung by Sally, is a delight, and ‘Beethoven Day’ is a big ensemble number that audiences will love,” Oxenreiter said.
“ ‘You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown’ is a show truly for all ages,” she said. “In a world filled with strife and anxiety, this show’s message is one that the world needs. Charlie Brown, the little round-headed kid who never seems to be able to do anything right, in the end, proves himself to be a good friend and a good ‘man.’ He has friends who love and respect him, even Lucy. The final song, ‘Happiness,’ says it all – ‘Happiness is anyone and anything at all that’s loved by you.’”
Bonnijean Cooney Adams is a former McKeesport Daily News editor. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Originally published September 13, 2019.