July 23, 2022 — CROW (Children’s Repertory of Oregon Workshops) is not just for kids, although it regularly features children treading the boards with enthusiasm. The July 22 to 24 and 29 to 31 production of “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown” at the Florence Events Center features six adults singing and dancing with exceptional skill and the enthusiasm of kids. But, since their characters are kids, you could call them big kids and therefore CROW kids.
“Charlie Brown” is a joyful homage to the comic strip of Charles Schulz. Titled “Peanuts,” the daily comic strip ran in thousands of newspapers for a half century, 1950 to 2000, every one drawn by Schulz, the last one on Feb. 13, 2000, the day after he died. No ghostly shenanigans. Comic strips were turned in to the publisher weeks before printing, and in early February, Schulz, in poor health, decided to retire. He did not want anyone else to draw the strip so he retired it as well, and he drew that message in his final strip that ran the day after he died.
Of course “Peanuts” continued in reruns, bringing its charm to generations in newspapers and television specials, and “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown,” written by Clark Gesner not Schulz, played Off Broadway and on Broadway many times and in regional theaters everywhere, which brings us to July at the Florence Events Center and those six extremely talented actors. About them all, we just gotta CROW.
Chris Owens is perfect as Charlie Brown in his ubiquitous yellow T-shirt with the zigzag black stripe and his innocence and predilection to do good and be good, no matter how much the world (and Lucy) beats him down. His yearning for the red-haired girl gives him hope, even though he says on Valentine’s Day that nothing echoes like an empty mailbox. But Charlie Brown’s hope gives the others hope, and that’s why he’s ultimately a “good man.” Owens has been CROW’s sound engineer; with this appealing performance, he needs to be on stage, front and center.
As for Lucy, she is self-asserting and crabby and convinced she can do no wrong. If she can’t be a queen because she is not a royal, she’ll be rich and she’ll buy a “queendom” and make herself queen! Melanie Heard, also assistant director and choreographer, has a wonderful time playing the mean girl, teasing Charlie Brown as his psychiatrist and educating her brother Linus with misinformation. But Lucy has a soft spot for Schroeder, the piano prodigy. Heard seeks his attention by spreading her Lucy self across his little red piano like the animated Edward Gorey cartoon at the start of “Masterpiece Mystery” on PBS. But like his hero, Beethoven, Schroeder doesn’t hear her. He does, however, take his eyes off the piano to tell Lucy she is too crabby. Lucy takes it in stride and makes a questionnaire of it. Heard, founder and creative director of CROW, hasn’t been on stage for quite some time, and we’ve missed her gorgeous singing, enchanting acting and swinging tap dancing. If the theater were ever to go dark due to an electrical glitch, she alone could light the stage.
The aforementioned Schroeder is played on all 88 keys by Josh Bruce. New to Florence, he slides easily into character, an inveterate musician publicizing Beethoven’s Day, a counselor to crabby Lucy, and a teacher to Sally who’s developing a new philosophy.
Wendy Krause, no stranger to Florence musicals, plays Sally, Charlie Brown’s little sister. With curly blonde hair and a polka dot dress, Sally is a Shirley Temple airhead, chasing rabbits while the others write their book reports. Krause is a wonderful singer and engages in some neat tap dancing with Heard.
Lucy’s little brother is Linus, and Linus’s constant companion is his blanket. Bill Olson captures the little boy’s dependence on the blanket in a charming song. In a ghostly turn, the blanket even dances with him!
Happiness is a warm puppy. The puppy of course is Snoopy, Charlie Brown’s dog, a sophisticated canine who’s got them all figured out from the top of his big red doghouse — as long as he gets his dinner. Unleashed Snoopy is played by Brian D. Sandahl, who is also director and set designer. New to Florence, Sandahl brings a wealth of experience as art director for Walt Disney Company and as an actor in Southern California. Sandahl has a wonderful time prancing about, chasing rabbits with Sally and dramatizing his favorite fantasy as a World War I pilot taking out the Red Baron. Sandahl is particularly fetching singing and dancing a jazzy soft shoe “Suppertime” with Heard and Krause tapping along.
The six actors are in constant motion, and the spare set design allows for that — a blue sky backdrop, a green grassy edge, a red brick wall, six brightly colored blocks, Lucy’s portable doctor office and Snoopy’s doghouse — all mobile for rearranging, depending on the song.
Speaking of song, the show is accompanied by live music, directed by Rhianna Haines, but the excellent band is hidden at the back of the stage in the dark. We send loud applause to the musicians: Haines on piano, Dana Brenner on clarinet, Lynette Kristine on string bass, Marcus Sharbowski on percussion, and Mike Swain on drums.
In conclusion, “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown” is a terrific show. Thank you, CROW, for filling the FEC with music and laughter once again. Thank you, CROW, for spreading your wings and taking us away from the news of the day — the pandemic, insurrection hearings, inflation, the war in Ukraine, and a triple-digit heat wave everywhere but Florence. A couple of hours of live theater, that’s just what the doctor ordered.