On October 30, the cast of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown held an open rehearsal for the press, giving us a sneak peek at the upcoming Broadway revival.
We got to see some of the production numbers with the slightest semblance of sets and props -- focusing on what truly is the heart of the production: the performances. The six performers in the piece gathered with director Michael Mayer to perform such numbers as the Martha Graham-esque, "My Blanket and Me" with B.D. Wong, "Happiness Is," "No Team Like the Best Team" and, of course, the opening title number, "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown".
Director Mayer told PBOL how he got attached to the project. "I got a call while I was rehearsing Side Man at Manhattan Theatre Club, and [the producers] asked me, 'What do you think of You're a Good Man Charlie Brown ?' and I was like , 'Yeah!' I responded almost immediately."
Not only was Mayer familiar with the lovable characters from the long- running Charles Schulz comic strip "Peanuts," but he'd played Schroeder in college. "I had such a great time. It was such a great experience -- watching the audience each night, watching the show. One audience after another all were flipping over it. They loved the humor of it and the humanity of it," said Mayer.
But how do you take an intimate Off-Broadway show, comprising a series of songs and character vignettes, and expand it for Broadway? Mayer admitted, "This particular assignment was a tricky one...The first thing was the look of it. I looked at old theatre history books and saw how quaint and charming it was. All the design elements can be more sophisticated, because of the technology we have now that we didn't have thirty years ago." Mayer continued, "Then we went back to the original script, and we wanted it to look like a [animation] cell, so that as each new event happens everything moves into a new frame. Something David [Gallo, set designer] does very well. I was very lucky to get my entire design team from View [from a Bridge].
"The second thing was the material itself," said Mayer. "I called the people at United Media who sent me all the books and videotapes -- and got everything Schulz has done, and I found some things in there that weren't in the original show, that I loved ."
So, Mayer along with writer Clark Gesner, made some changes, removing certain sections that were particularly outdated, allowing the show to be timeless. One major change to the show, however, is the adaptation of the character Patty -- not Peppermint Patty, but a character Mayer describes as, "kind of an amalgam of all the women who weren't Lucy" and changed her to Sally, easily recognizable to anyone who's read the comic strip as Charlie Brown's younger sister and someone with a schoolgirl crush on Linus.
"The greatest thing of all," admits Mayer "was when I met ["Peanuts" creator] Mr. Schulz -- 'Sparky' as he asked me to call him. He's a brilliant guy and completely open to my new ideas. He even takes my phone calls," joked Mayer.
And how did "Sparky" respond to the changes? "He loved all of it and even made a few suggestions of his own, which we've added" said Mayer.
Charlie Brown will begin Broadway previews Jan. 23, 1999 for a February 11, 1999 opening.
The cast includes Roger Bart ( Triumph of Love) as Snoopy, Kristin Chenoweth as Sally ( Steel Pier), Ilana Levine ( The Last Night of Ballyhoo) as Lucy, Stanley Wayne Mathis ( The Lion King) as Schroeder, Anthony Rapp ( Rent) as Charlie Brown, and B.D. Wong ( M. Butterfly) as Linus.
The pre-Broadway tour dates are as follows:
Nov. 18 - 28, North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, Skokie IL
Dec. 3 - 13, The Playhouse, Wilmington DE
Dec. 16 - 27, The Fisher Theatre, Detroit MI
Dec. 30 - Jan 3, 1999: The Fox Theatre, St. Louis MO
Jan. 7 - 17, 1999: The Shubert in Boston MA
Jan. 23, 1999: Previews start at Broadway's Longacre Theatre.