”You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” the cast of ORU’s spring performance sings as they march around the stage to the backdrop of a blue sky and Snoopy’s iconic red dog house. Laughter from children and grandparents alike erupts from the crowd as the characters make witty remarks, like when Charlie Brown says, “I’ve been wondering when dogs started to become man’s best friend,” to which Snoopy quips, “probably right around the invention of cookies.”
This show is unique, not just because the theatre students are dressed up as children and climbing on oversized couches, but because of what it took to put the show together.
Normally, the cast and crew begin putting together their spring show in January and have more than two months to practice and prepare before the show’s debut, but this year, due to COVID-19 and unprecedented weather, their rehearsal time was cut short.
“We put this show together in about two weeks,” said Braden Clapp, who played Charlie Brown in the Lucy cast. “So it’s been a crazy process of musical rehearsals and dance rehearsals. But it’s really cool to see everybody really grit our teeth and bear down to get things done for the show. It’s taken a lot of coordination and focus.”
According to the cast, the show wasn’t even supposed to happen, but Dr. Laura Holland, the director of the show, felt what better time to cheer people up than during a pandemic.
“[Dr. Holland] really just wanted to put a smile on people’s faces and have them forget about Covid, about their lives, [and] about what’s happening. And just live, and live in this world that we created—just be happy,” remarks Isis Palma, who played Sally in the Lucy cast.
Like the famous movies based off of the comic strip, the play is a series of scenes—some with dialogue, others with singing—not necessarily linked, but all designed to make the audience laugh. Or, designed to make the audience shed a tear or two, like when Lucy says to a self conscious, moody Charlie Brown, “For what it’s worth, you’re you.”
The 1967 musical comedy, lyrics and music written by Clark Gesner, is based off of cartoonist Charles M. Schulz’s timeless comic strip Peanuts. The play began its start off-broadway at Theatre 80 in East Village and made several U.S. tours between 1967 and 1970 before making its broadway debut June 1, 1971 and closing June 27 after 32 performances and 15 previews. The show has since made a broadway revival in 1999, and an off-broadway revival in 2016, and has been a long standing favorite for amateur theatre.
“Charlie Brown is one of those things that is timeless. It never really goes out of style, it never loses its charm and its relatability. I think that it’s really beautiful to do a show like this during the world that we live in, and with all of the restrictions and all of the craziness, because I think it can speak to literally anybody from a five year old to an adult, to anyone,” said Palma. “It’s transcendent, and it becomes an hour and a half where you can just breathe and laugh and feel free to laugh at things that maybe you wouldn’t laugh at in normal life. So that’s what I found really special about this show.”
Due to COVID-19, ORU theatre’s plan to perform “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” last spring was canceled, and their play in the fall was performed purely via Zoom, so this show was the cast’s first time getting to perform in front of a live audience in a year.
“[This year,] the cameras keep up with us,” sayed Dr. Holland.
While the play brought laughter and a sense of escapism to the audience, it also brought freedom and joy to the cast. Because the cast played children, they spent much of their time darting across stage in an uncoordinated run, swaying back and forth in oversized clothing or making comments that’d make it on “kids say the darndest things.”
“You are being yourself on stage, but at a more extreme level,” says Palma. “We’re in college now and we think about what people think of us. But when you’re a kid, you don’t care.”
Playing children, the cast says, allowed them to break out of their comfort zone and find a child-like confidence in themselves.
“I find myself being more comfortable around everybody than I was previously just because I had to go crazy on stage,” said Emma Erway, who played Snoopy in the Snoopy cast. “They’ve already seen me go lose my mind over a bowl that has nothing in it, I might as well, you know, just be myself around them outside of it.”
“A lot of it is being fully committed to even some of the smallest and seemingly stupid things. But that’s what kids do. They’ll see a dog bowl, they’ll see a stick or they’ll see a kite and they’ll be fully invested and fully committed to that thing or that situation or that mindset. And there’s no shame about it, and just letting yourself be free on stage to fully commit to something and just have fun with it was very freeing and exciting to do with everyone,” says Daniel Schurz, who played Linus for both casts.
Dr. Holland says this is the first time she has ever directed a double casted play. With 11 actors and six parts, she was worried there would be jealousy between the Snoopy and Lucy cast, but instead found immense support between them.
“The thing that is marvelous about this case is that they support each other, they cheer for each other. They want each other to succeed. And then they’re all individuals. They all created wonderful characters that weren’t a copy. They were original, and that, to me, was the best part about the show,” Dr. Holland said, admiring her students with pride.
Even though the show is just a bunch of children doing silly things that children do, there are lessons that can be taken from the show.
Palma says even in the title, “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” is a lesson to be taken.
“You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, and it’s not because he’s done so many great things, because he hasn’t. He tries so hard, and he fails. But he keeps on trying, and that’s what makes him a good man,” explains Palma.
“And it shows that, you know, you can mess up, you can fail every now and then, you can do the wrong thing. But you’re still good,” said Clapp.
“Despite what’s happening around you, like Covid, just like a bunch of terrible things, you can still be good,” adds Schurz.
ORU Theatre will be back March 31 and April 1, once again playing children, in the play “Junie B. Jones Is Not a Crook.”