The Peanuts gang has never looked so musical. When You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown officially bows at the Marx Theatre at the Cincinnati Playhouse, Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy, Snoopy, Schroeder, and Peppermint Patty will all be playing their own instruments.
The staging conceived by Nick Cearley and Lauren Molina—better known as The Skivvies—was inspired by the 2005 revival of Sweeney Todd, in which stars like Patti LuPone and Michael Cerveris accompanies themselves on tuba, guitar, and other classic instruments. But Charlie Brown has always been a surprising musical, taking a look at the world through the eyes of kindergartners. And so, actors Cearley as Linus, Molina as Lucy, Armando Gutierrez as Snoopy, Stephanie Anne Johnson as Patty, Rob Morrison as Charlie Brown, and Brett Ryback as Schroeder will play kazoos, slide whistles and washboards, along with the traditional guitar, piano and accordion.
Charlie Brown began performances at the Ohio-based Playhouse April 20 with an official opening April 25 and plays through May 18. (Click here for tickets.)
Here Cearley and Molina talk about their concept, matching characters with instruments, and more. Plus, watch an exclusive clip from the production in the video above.
What made you choose Charlie Brown for this type of actor-musician treatment? Do you feel the score and the show lend itself to that?
Nick Cearley: In 2005, when I saw John Doyle’s actor/musician concept of Sweeney Todd, I was immediately inspired by that kind of storytelling. It was such a successful way (in my opinion) to reimagine a classic through fresh eyes. I started brainstorming with Lauren, who originated Johanna in that production, for what other shows could work with that concept.
Lauren Molina: You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown has always been a show we’ve gravitated towards because of its sincerity, heart, and quirkiness. There are strong characters who are flawed. The charm is in the vulnerable search for human connection. How can we be happy in this world? It isn’t children's theatre, but rather feels like universal adult conversations being told through five-year-olds, exactly as Charles Schulz wrote the original comic strip.
NC: With the collective group of instruments that the cast plays, the whimsical world of Charlie Brown seems to comes to life even more vividly through playful musical instrumentation. What I love most is the spirit. When the original production was created in 1967, the original group of six actors worked with Clark Gesner to create what ultimately transpired to become YAGCB. They all collaborated together to write the show that was from their seven collective brains. . .and fun fact, the book writer is credited as “John Gordon!” That is a pseudonym the group came up with when in fact it was all of them. John Gordon is a made up name! It’s the essence of that right there that made us want to go back to the original production and create a new approach to the classic using a similar approach to the collaborative spirit as those original people.
LM: By having the Peanuts gang also be the band, and having been given the generous support and approval from the Schulz estate to play with the arrangements to suit our needs, it’s exactly what we have been dreaming about since 2005.
How did assign which character would play which instrument? Was it character-based or was it based on the actors you cast? Did you say Sally needs to play the flute, or we cast Jane and she happens to play the flute?
LM: The character of Schroeder who plays piano in the comic strip will also play piano. He is the only character that was a “must play” with his specific instrument. I will be playing cello and probably bass, guitar, and even some ukulele.
NC: Our musical supervisor, Michael Holland, has great experience reimagining classic arrangements. I loved his work on the revival of Godspell. Our director, Bill Fennelly, along with Michael took the skill sets of the cast and make choices with them to determine what works best for each character. We are doing the original Off-Broadway production, which doesn’t include Sally. It is Patty in this production. For the 1999 revival, they did some restructuring of Patty’s character who disappeared into what became Sally. I think there’s something about taking the original source material, unaltered by the revival changes, for our actor-instrument concept that will make this experience unique.
With cast members who play multiple instruments, allowing you a choice to make, what about each character made you choose the instrument you did?
NC: I can answer this on a personal level. Linus is the youngest of the bunch. A brilliant choice made by the collective group was that I would play most of the toy-like instruments, which include but are not limited to: ukulele, banjolele, drums, boomwhackers, bells, toy piano, melodica, slide whistles, and anything else that belongs in a toy box.
LM: We loved the idea of Snoopy as the percussionist playing on a drum kit that is somehow a dog house. The dog would make the most noise maybe even using his supper dish as a drum. Having been a part of the audition process for this show, it was astounding how many actor musicians brought in so much playful material and countless instruments. The way the cast landed steered us to who would be playing what and for which songs.
Click here for tickets and information to You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown at the Cincinnati Playhouse in Cincinnati, Ohio.