By Bill Beard
For a long time now, I have refrained from reviewing theater productions by local community, high school and college groups, because I am friends with and have worked with so many of the dedicated amateur actor-singer-dancer-directors in the stateline area, and it’s difficult to be objective about the work of people you know and love. I attend probably at least 75 percent of the shows within my driving distance, but I usually only review the Chicago theaters, plus a few others like The Fireside and Timber Lake Playhouse.
But once in a while, I see a show that really stands out, that is so well done that it really deserves shouting about, one of those “Everything falls into place and works out great!” performances, and I just have to write about it.
Such is the case with the current production of You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown by the Main Street Players of Boone County. It opened this past weekend at the Community Building Complex in Belvidere, and continues one more weekend, this coming May 17 and 18 at 7 p.m. (note the early curtain time) and Sunday, May 19 at 2 p.m. I sincerely urge you to go.
Peanuts has been around for more than 40 years, best known as the Charles Schulz comic strip; in newspapers almost every day, in full-color paperback books, in the popular television specials, and in live, on-stage productions since it opened on Broadway in 1967 as You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown. It has been a perennial favorite for all kinds of amateur groups, and the Main Street Players have produced a show that demonstrates why.
Director Tim Curtis of Woodstock, Ill., has lucked out with a nearly perfect cast, six extremely talented young adults who not only bring out the pure fun of these simple but oh-so-recognizable “kids,” but who also expose all the inner truth and humanity that we see every day in our adult world, too. They make us see and smile at all the little faults and foibles of our friends and especially ourselves, and eventually help us realize that this all adds up to what we call “Happiness” (the show’s finale song).
The action is dominated, of course, by the overwhelming character, Lucy Van Pelt, in this case brilliantly conceived by Ms. Jessica Brady, in a beautifully balanced performance. Her Lucy is perfection! No matter how bossy and blatant Lucy becomes, we still absolutely love her! This is one of the best characterizations of this role I have ever seen.
Thomas Luna as Charlie Brown is also right on target. Even when being beaten down by life and luck (and most of his friends), this Charlie still has a spark and a spirit underneath that keeps us rooting for him. Luna handles the songs well, too.
Aaron Devon Gomez as Linus and Ana Paruzynski as Sally have both captured the very essence of their characters and are consistently strong in their handling of the sly humor of the script. Julia Whitcomb of Belvidere North High School makes a fine Schroeder, and has a great voice. I wish she had more chances to let go.
Michael Neumann, whom I have not seen on stage for some time, has grown from that cute little guy who played Oliver into a handsome young dog of a Snoopy, and really lets go in his song-and-dance showstopper, “Suppertime.”
An excellent pit band led by Sharon Whitlock at piano, with Dan Johnson on bass and Bryce Strunk on drums, is flawless. The ensemble vocal work is solid, thanks to the work of Betsy Stemple; choreography by Deb Swinford is cute and works well.
Technically, the simple, but ample, set by Amanda Payne, lighting by Lon Hoegberg (and company), and wonderful custom-made costumes by Kat’s Kloset of Woodstock made for a professional look for the whole production. Most importantly, they have kept the simple, straightforward style and flavor that this show demands, thanks to both director and cast.
You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown is the best thing I’ve seen on any of the amateur stages in the area for a long time. It deserves your attention … and your attendance. Phone for information and tickets at 800-741-2963 or go to firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the May 15-21, 2013, issue