Cartoon characters that sing and dance
“As I look at the characters on stage, I remember the child that I once was, and the adult I am still trying to be. “
The new artistic directors at Upstairs at the Gatehouse, Annlouise Butt and Isaac Bernier-Doyle, are continuing the theatre’s tradition of strong musical shows, especially around Christmas time. You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown is directed and choreographed by Amanda Noar, who, among much else, directed the wonderful Hot Mikado I saw in 2004, which took the best of Gilbert and Sullivan’s opera and moved it to 1940s America.
This show is based on the famous comic strip Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz, which, as Noar writes in the programme, is about children navigating the ups and downs of childhood. Peanuts was syndicated in American newspapers for half a century, from 1950 to 2000. I personally never liked it quite as much as its UK equivalent, The Perishers, but that may simply be English snobbery. The comic strip was turned into a musical by Clark Gesner and produced in New York in 1967 and London the following year.
The opening sets the tone. Sally Brown (Millie Robins) tells us the trouble with Charlie Brown is that he lacks confidence, but swiftly elaborates: it turns out he’s stupid and unattractive, AND he lacks confidence. Charlie Brown himself (Jordan Broatch) is tormented by his inability to summon up the courage to talk to the attractive red-haired girl eating her lunch a short way away from him. He sends valentines but no one sends him a valentine, and Lucy (Eleanor Fransch), passing herself off as a psychiatrist, helpfully suggests Charlie lists all the things that are wrong with him.
This theme of childhood shyness and angst offers a talented cast the chance to entertain us for the next two hours, including an interval. The actors all sing and dance with energy and precision, bouncing and high-kicking to perfection, and the five-person on-stage band provides faultless musical cover. There’s a wonderful Pink Panther routine, complete with Pink Panther music, performed by Sally and Snoopy the dog (Oliver Sidney) and Snoopy also turns out to be an accomplished tap dancer. Noar and her set designer Roby Boswell-Green have wisely avoided cluttering the stage with too much by way of sets and props, giving their actors space in which to run and dance and perform.
There isn’t a weakness in the cast. For me, the standout is Jacob Cornish’s Linus, fretful and clutching his iconic blanket, and I love the way Robins and Fransch have turned themselves into little girls. Broatch’s Charlie Brown is excellent, though perhaps not ideally cast, being taller than the other actors, which somehow make his sense of inadequacy less convincing.
You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown is a clever choice for a Christmas show. Children will enjoy it, yet it isn’t a children’s show; it has enough sly sophistication to work for an entirely adult audience, which is what it had on the press night.
“You’re a Good Man,
“My Blanket and Me”
“The Doctor is In”
“The Book Report”
“The Red Baron”
“My New Philosophy”
“T-E-A-M (The Baseball Game)”
“Glee Club Rehearsal”
“Little Known Facts”
You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown
Book by Clark Gesner, Michael Mayer
Composed by Andrew Lippa, Clark Gesner
Directed and choreographed by Amanda Noar
Choreographer: Amanda Noar
Set Designer: Ruby Boswell Green
Costume Designer: Holly Louise Chapman
Lighting Designer: Jen Watson
Musical Director: Harry Style
Running Time: Two hours 20 minutes with an interval
Booking until 14th January 2024
Upstairs at the Gatehouse
London N6 4BD
Box Office: 020 8340 3488
Reviewed by Francis Beckett
at Upstairs at the Gatehouse
on 15th December 202