We are so fortunate in this community to have a variety of theater companies who produce lots of quality productions. But we may also sometimes forget we also have the two universities in River Forest which offer a wide variety of top-notch student shows as well.
Currently, The Collective at Concordia University, the school’s theater wing, has mounted a goofy, touching show, “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” based on the comic strip “Peanuts,” by Charles M. Schulz. Clark Gesner wrote the original book, music and lyrics. It’s an enjoyable, heartwarming little musical, suitable for all ages.
If you remember them, the Peanuts gang continues to charm us. This was never a grandiose Broadway show, though it first opened in 1967. It’s certainly not profound theater. But it’s a gentle good time. It’s a really family-friendly musical.
Director Tomica S. Jenkins keeps the show moving at a quick pace, yet her transitions are smooth. The tone of the production is joyful and endearing.
Beginning in the early 1950s, the Peanuts characters became household names. I don’t know if today’s kids know Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy, Linus, Schroeder and Sally, but I believe the seasonal TV specials are still being broadcast. But whether one is already familiar with these characters does not matter as the performers provide you with all you need to know.
Actually, there is a fair amount of complexity in these seemingly simple little kids. Several of them provide some significant food for thought.
There is no plot or storyline, really. The show is simply a series of vignettes that are set-ups for musical numbers. There are 16 entertaining, though not particularly memorable, songs.
Like all sketch shows, some skits play better than others.
This show is a true ensemble piece. The young, diverse cast is exuberant and each gives a distinctive, energetic performance. The gang sings and philosophizes their way through a gamut of little kid experiences, from a daunting book report to eating lunch by one’s self because everyone else seems to have overlooked you.
Charlie Brown, a worrisome, doubtful child, is warmly played by Gavin Young. Wearing his distinctive yellow zig-zag shirt, Charlie seems to always be overthinking himself into a state of anxiety. He’s stuck in a streak of bad luck and low self-esteem that keeps him down in the dumps.
Irritable, headstrong Lucy is delightfully played by Nina Williams. She’s bossy and crabby but hopelessly in love with piano prodigy Schroeder. He, however, doesn’t give her the time of day.
Emil Clausing is blanket-clutching Linus. He’s great doing his “My Blanket and Me” number.
Loud, overdramatic Sally is Corrie Hager.
Piano-playing Schroeder, possibly the most stable and mature of the bunch, is played by Dominic Reyes. He’s a put-upon, tortured artist type who only has eyes for his piano.
Brianna Cavender is fun as the beagle Snoopy. The actress shows an instinct for physical comedy and is especially delightful in the number “Suppertime.” She’s adept at conveying doggie body language.
The set direction, taking inspiration from the Schulz comic strip, is by David Knoell and Gillian Norris. The whimsical costumes are by Bob Kuhn. The rear projections, which range from neighborhood settings to snippets of book reports, are especially well designed by Joe Burke.
Anneliese Ayers is the choreographer. Christian Hauser is the musical director. The unseen orchestra includes Hauser, Rong Hijger, Cathie Lowmiller, Jim Postilion and Jim Schuchter.
“You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” runs two acts with one-intermission. It’s a charming, delightful production and the tickets are reasonably priced.
See the Peanuts gang Friday and Saturday, Feb. 28 and 29, 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, March 1 at 3 p.m., at Bergmann Theatre, Concordia University Chicago, 7400 Augusta St., River Forest. $15; $10, students/seniors. Tickets: charliebrowncuc.brownpapertickets.com.