You're a great show, Charlie Brown; Theatre Victoria offers treat for all

By Alice Adams
July 24, 2010 at 2:24 a.m.

Although Charles Schulz, creator of the popular comic strip "Peanuts," died several years ago, his spirit was alive and well as soon as the lights dimmed at Theatre Victoria Friday night.

As the entire cast of "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" searches for Charlie, the lovable rounded-headed boy is - once again - almost invisible.

This rousing, high energy introduction to the gang sets the tone and the pace for an entire evening of fun for all ages, exploring a day in the life of Schulz's beloved characters, familiar to anyone over 15 and entertaining for youngsters in the audience.

But, this isn't your usual musical. Far from it!

First, Producing Artistic Director, Charles Moster, has once again, assembled an amazing cast.

Every character and member of the large kids' chorus and Peanut Gallery is not only fun to watch but enormously talented in acting, singing and dancing. An incredible feat at any level but especially community theatre.

Secondly, each of the two acts runs about 45 minutes, but don't think you won't get your money's worth.

Moster and company masterfully fill every minute with fun - baseball games, Lucy's often-unsolicited advice, kite flying, blankets and a little philosophy along the way.

The staging is magical and this talented cast makes it all look easy, but make no mistake.

The theatre once again delivers a Broadway-caliber hit with the show's demanding pace punctuated with virtuoso theatrics from a script that challenges most veteran ensembles.

As always, Victoria Theatre's show is technically excellent, beginning with the hard-working crew behind the scenes.

Applause to technical director Michael Teer and stage manager Amanda Rocha for designing and managing a beautifully executed vision of Schulz's legacy. Similarly, the exquisite lighting design from George and Joyce Matthews was unobtrusive as it underscored the stage action and wowed us during Snoopy's dogfight with the Red Baron.

Scenic artist Paul Locher and props mistress Carla Hanes have executed put a interesting and remarkably utilitarian setting that provides a comic strip tone without overwhelming the stage.

Kudos also to Jason Ramirez and Quinn Wrench - sound designers/operators -- for skillfully maintaining a well-nuanced balance of voices and music.

Beverly Cheshire's musical direction was absolutely flawless, not only during the performance but also finding and cultivating a perfect blend of the diverse voices throughout the evening.

Even in the most physical sequences, vocals and harmonies were astonishingly well-delivered.

Choreographer Laura Klimist definitely had her work cut out for her, but during Friday's opening, even the tiniest cast members turned in stellar dance performance. Plus, these kids were singing and acting, too.

As for the cast, itself, no superlative can measure Friday's opening. It was a veritable feast of talent.

Russell Kacer, as Charlie, captured the persona of the little boy who has captured the hearts of millions for decades, even though he can't kick a football or fly a kite. Kacer was alternately despairing and hopeful, not just from an acting standpoint but vocally and dance-wise as well.

Janice McDonald, as Lucy, deftly and masterfully moved from charming to her royal crabbiness and, like Kacer, turned in strong vocals as well as skilled dance sequences.

Both actors crafted their characters to a "T" without being schmaltzy and kept the lively pace totally enchanting.

Raymond Yancey, as the classical musician Schroeder, added fine comic gradations to his character. Best illustrated by his delicious pantomimic moments at his "baby" grand during another of Lucy's amorous assaults.

During the after-show reception, more than one audience member was overheard saying, "That young man should be on Broadway."

Another favorite moment occurred during Linus' well-delivered and beautifully choreographed "blanket fantasy." By the end of the number, the stage was filled with music, dancing, singing and colorful blankets.

Andy Heger's Linus fit the bill with his loveable antics while maintaining a running intellectual commentary and great vocals.

Taylor Shelley's relentlessly energetic portrayal of Sally required a high level of frenzy and her portrayal may have surpassed the Tony Award-winning performance of Kristen Chenoweth on Broadway.

Shelley's energetic physicality was equaled only by Julie Maples as the adorable Snoopy. Playing a dog as well-known as this canine isn't easy, but Maples exceeded the challenge on every front, particularly with her vocals and especially in her delightfully sexy rendition of "Suppertime." Audiences will never be able to feed their pets again without humming this tune.

Moster's direction lends gentle guidance to this assemblage of superior talent, inserting some of the original material lost in the 1999 Broadway revival and shepherding the cast into a production that soars at every level, delights all ages and, by the finale, had the sold-out house on its feet, cheering and applauding.

Yes, indeed. "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" at Theatre Victoria isn't just good. It's great.



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