Good grief! Get ready to hit the high and low notes of childhood with the “Peanuts” gang throughout Issaquah Village Theater’s production of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.” The classic Americana comic strip lives on in the modern musical directed by Jimmy Shields. Six of the classic “Peanuts” characters come together to reconnect the audience with childlike optimism, and to remind us all that happiness and friendship pull through, even during hard times. Charlie Brown preached that “happiness is finding a pencil.” I couldn’t agree more, because halfway through the show, my rapid note-taking took its toll on the welfare of my pen. To say the least, I was very happy to find a pencil on the floor. The original musical, written and produced by Clark Gesner, premiered on stage for the first time in 1967. Based on the Sunday comic and well-known holiday movie series from Charles Schulz, “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” aims to remind us all that finding personal happiness, even through tough times, should be a top priority. Throughout the musical, the characters find their happiness through flying kites, eating supper, and dancing with blankets. Charlie Brown and the gang reveal that the simple things in life are often the most gratifying. These simple joys are highlighted by brilliant writing, acting, and enthusiasm throughout the duration of the show.
Well-versed actor Rafael Molina stars as Charlie Brown, an American icon dubbed the “lovable loser” by multiple definitions. Charlie Brown is always getting the short end of the stick. From girl troubles to book reports, the poor kid can’t catch a break. As the show moves along, things look up, and the mousy character sees that happiness has no definition; it can be uniquely yours, in any way you imagine it. Snoopy, played by Jason Weitkamp, finds his true happiness through the musical number “Suppertime.” Snoopy disregards Charlie Brown’s bleak assumption that suppertime is nothing to put on a production for. Instead, the charming canine adorns a sparkly bow tie and pulls out an oversized martini glass from his dog house to kick off the suppertime celebration. In another scene, “I am a sleeping dog,” Snoopy is awoken by Arika Matoba’s Sally Brown to chase rabbits while the rest of the gang writes a seemingly agonizing book report. Snoopy and Sally undoubtedly form the best friendship throughout the production; proving dogs truly are a girl’s best friend.
From costumes to casting, every component of the production cohesively worked together to convey a deeper meaning. Costume designer Melanie Burgess did an excellent job, not only at recreating the depiction of the original “Peanuts” characters, but also by incorporating clever details into the costume design. Each character wore an iteration of chunky platform shoes and big clothing, perceivably to appear more childlike due to the oversized outfits. During Linus’s debut scene “My Blanket and Me,” each character is shown dancing about the stage with their own uniquely colored blanket. The blankets seemed to correspond to the character’s unique personalities; Linus’s classic baby blue blanket touches on his airy temperament, and Sally’s pastel yellow hints at her bright and optimistic demeanor. Careful consideration of design elements such as this come together to produce an overall lively, meaningful, and thought-inspiring performance, leaving the audience with a better understanding of the characters’ motives and the meaning behind the writing.
Matoba, a regular actress at Village Theater, stars as the spunky sister of Charlie Brown. Sally Brown has a bright and imaginative personality, which appeared to suit Matoba. “I try to bring a lot of my own younger self into playing this role,” Matoba said while discussing her wild imagination as a young girl. “I think the reason why people gravitate toward the ‘Peanuts’ comics over the years is because of its honesty [in] portraying children.” Matoba highlights how she remembers having “big feelings” when she was younger, such as anger, sadness, and loneliness. She states that the emotions she felt as a child are just as powerful as those experienced in adulthood.
Catch a showing of Issaquah Village Theater’s “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” from now until May 22. The modern classic is sure to entice an evening full of laughs and heartwarming moments among all ages. Finding your happiness is serious business, and there’s no better place to look than to Charlie Brown and the “Peanuts” gang.