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Review: TBT show brings back the Peanuts gang

April 2, 2012
By DIANE SPEER - News Lifestyles Editor , The Alpena News

Who doesn't love good old Charlie Brown and the rest of the Peanuts gang?

With the recent opening of its latest production, Thunder Bay Theatre is providing audiences young and old alike a chance to reconnect with the beloved characters from the comic strip created by cartoonist Charles M. Schulz. It's definitely a feel good show.

TBT Artistic Director J.R. Rodriguez first directed "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" in 2001 in the weeks right after 9/11 occurred. He remembers wondering, given the distraught climate in the country at that time, if audiences would even show up. They did and they reveled in the chance to forget about their problems for awhile.

Rodriguez sees parallels today with the current state of the nation and thinks the play is another opportunity for people to get away from it all, at least temporarily.

The show has been around since the 1970s and doesn't contain a main plot point per se. Instead, familiar storylines from the comic strip are woven together, such as Lucy's crush on the piano-playing Schroeder and Snoopy's big dreams of becoming a flying ace.

The action moves along at a fairly tight clip, with some bright, peppy songs interspersed throughout. Six actors filter on and off the stage as the Peanuts gang, depicting the wondrous, everyday lives of children.

Certainly rising to the top is sassy, brassy Lucy played by core company member Nickie Hilton. As Lucy, Hilton's got great stage presence, some comical expressions and as expected, stomps around the place hoping others will succumb to her will. Hilton has many bright moments in the show, including the spot where she declares her intentions to one day become a queen and when she administers a crabbiness survey to everyone, only to discover Linus ranks her at 95 percent crabby. She promptly punches him for his honest assessment.

Fellow company performer Kendra McInerney is adorable as Charlie Brown's sister, Sally, including with the fun song, "My New Philosophy." McInerney also is amusing when she laments having pulled a D in school for her pathetic coat hanger sculpture.

Morgan Suszek takes on the role of the perpetually self-doubting Charlie Brown, attired in his trademark zig-zag patterned shirt. From admitting all of Charlie's faults in the number, "The Doctor is In," to explaining why he lost his team's baseball game, Suszek elicits sympathy for poor Charlie Brown.

TBT newcomer LeShawn Bell pounds the keys on the pre-requisite low-to-the-ground piano as the Beethoven worshipping young pianist. Mackenzie Fountain as Linus totes around the familiar blue blanket and is consequently the subject of the charmingly choreographed blankie ode, "My Blanket and Me." Emily Szatkowski plays Snoopy, the canine who enjoys a dog's life as well as a rich fantasy life.

One of the favorite snippets in the production has the whole cast performing the "The Book Report" song during which Linus, Lucy, Schroeder and Charlie Brown oversized chunky pencils in hand are working on their Peter Rabbit book reports, each in his or her own way. Lucy is simply babbling to fit the 100-word requirement, Schroeder is doing a "comparison" between the book and Robin Hood, Linus is doing an over-complicated psychological analysis and Charlie Brown hasn't even started out of worry. All the while, Sally and Snoopy chase rabbits.

The set for "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" is fairly simple and effective with its red dog house, doodle-like clouds and multiple, movable pieces. For added fun, the running crew of Rick Mesler and Zach Clement dressed as characters from the comic strip. Clement's wild Pigpen-like hair may even have taken the longest to style before the start of the show.

The always quality musical direction and keyboard accompaniment of Bunny Lyon is another big plus. Lending musical support are Courtney Marshall on saxophone and Holden Brisson on percussion.

Lion Schulz served as assistant director, Katie Flemington as light and sound board operator, Derek Spack as technical director, Hilton as property mistress/scenic artist, McInerney as costumer and Clement as production stage manager.

For many adults, Peanuts most likely became an integral part of their children. Now is their chance to relive the exuberance and nostalgia of the comic strip characters and perhaps introduce them to their children or grandchildren as well. Remaining performances are April 6-7 and April 13-15 with show times at 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. There is no show on Easter Sunday.

Reservations can be made by calling the TBT box office at 354-2267.



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