COTTAGE GROVE — Sunday, Feb. 5 was a dreary, gray afternoon in Lane County. The inside of The Cottage Theatre, however, was a pleasant contrast. My best friend and I, along with a nearly sold out theatre of eager audience members, were immediately greeted with a bright, vibrant set.
For the following two hours, we were all transported back to the carefree world of childhood through the eyes of the Peanuts gang in, “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” a musical based on the comic strip by Charles M. Shulz written by Clark Gesner. This is theatre’s first show in its 2023 season. Directed by Mark VanBeever, he wrote in the program that he is thrilled to finally direct a show that is “Bright, happy, and exciting!”
“What is this musical about?” My friend, Caspian, asked. “You know, besides being about Peanuts?”
I had no idea. As a thespian, I have always prided myself on my extensive knowledge on musical theatre, but I realized that this was my first venture into this particular show that has been produced in hundreds of theatres for nearly 56 years since its debut– six years longer than the original comic strip itself ran.
We quickly learned together that this show is a series of cheerful vignettes featuring six familiar characters: Snoopy (played by Laurel Merz) , Schroeder (Ava Coleman), Lucy (Amber Hagen), Linus (Julia Shepherd), Sally (Sophia James), and of course, Charlie Brown himself (Blake Nelson).
It truly did feel like a comic strip came to life as we watched the ‘children’ (played by very talented adults) experience the ups and downs of youth such as unrequited love, sibling rivalry, book reports, and how to get a kite to stay up in the air.
Although this family-friendly musical is generally upbeat, the heartfelt emotions and philosophies of life expressed by the characters still struck a chord with me. I related to Charlie’s anxiety and depression on a personal level as he struggles to come to terms with who he is — turning to his pals and dog for emotional support.
I commend the predominantly female cast who took the stage by storm with their energy and physical comedy. As Susan Goes, the executive director of the theatre, stated during her opening announcements, it was wonderful seeing an ensemble of actors willing to tune into their inner children and truly play on stage.
I noticed that the lighting design (done by Trinity Riddell), set design (Rachel Froom), and costumes (Kali McDonald) were particularly innovative and wonderful. To my surprise, I learned that all three of those departments were headed by designers who had never done these jobs before. It was a delight seeing their colorful debut in these departments through this show.
This production of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” is a bright whirlwind of musical numbers and comedic bits that captivates its audience from beginning to end. The show was filled with as much laughter and heart that was given to us for fifty years in comic strip form. It leaves the audience with the message that happiness truly is enjoying the simple things in life — like a good supper, your favorite blanket, and the people you can sing with.
The show will continue through Feb. 19 and I will highly recommend this production to people of all ages. Tickets are on sale through the website. There truly is no bad seat in the house!
It was a good show, Cottage Theatre.