If you’ve got kids or grandchildren and are looking for a fun show, don’t miss Phoenix Theatre’s current production of You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown.

The Phoenix cast of You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown (photo: David Lowes)

The Phoenix cast of You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown (photo: David Lowes)

Based on Charles M. Schulz’s popular Peanuts comic strip, this high-energy, fast-paced musical follows the strip’s format of presenting humorous snippets and funny scenes rather than offering a more formal plot. And while this 46-year-old musical has an enduring charm that will appeal to any musical fan—the show has had recent revivals on both Broadway and at Ontario’s famed Stratford Festival—it really works best for families with kids aged six to 12.

In his review for CBC Radio’s On The Island, critic David Lennam says, “This version at the university is really good, particularly in that way that long after you’ve left the theatre you’re thinking about it again . . . . When you slip it on, it feels like a favourite sweater, that pure nostalgia that you’re bathed in. And it has something to say to today’s audiences because deft social commentary is what made Schulz’s comic strips so endearing.”

Noting the production is rich in sentimentality and familiarity, with vibrant choreography by busy local veteran Jacques Lemay, Lennam says “the acting and art direction are where it really succeeds: everything pops with colour . . . like a Roger Rabbit universe. The ensemble cast play well off each other.”

Snoopy (Kevin Eade) sings to the moon (photo: David Lowes)

Snoopy (Kevin Eade) sings to the moon (photo: David Lowes)

Under the headline “Phoenix Theatre’s Charlie Brown Sure to Please Fans,” the local Times Colonist says, “the University of Victoria’s theatre department has done a superior job with this 1967 musical.” True, reviewer Adrian Chamberlain admits he’s not a fan of musical creator Clark Gesner’s material, but he praises this production nonetheless: “The cartoon-ish set and costumes are great. Jacques Lemay’s choreography is just dandy—the dance is simple, yet sufficiently complex to engage and entertain. Fran Gebhard’s sure-handed direction is bold and brisk.”

He also points out that the “well-rehearsed student cast did well overall. And Adrian Bronson, accompanying on grand piano, was excellent.” As for favourites, Chamberlain says, “Tea Siskin, playing Lucy, emerges as the show’s standout. Her performance was theatrical without being over the top; she somehow manages to create a strong, warm character who’s simultaneously irritating and endearing.”

The Peanuts gang with Charlie Brown (Kale Penny) (photo: David Lowes)

The Peanuts gang with Charlie Brown (Kale Penny) (photo: David Lowes)

Reviewing for CVV Magazine, Anna Kemp describes the production as “all good, no grief” and “fun right from the rousing opening number.” Noting her five-year-old son “loved it, and it was just the right length for him,” Kemp says “the performance by UVic’s Phoenix Theatre makes it easy to see why the show has enjoyed such popularity over the years.”

Kemp also enjoyed the cast overall. “Tea Siskin (Lucy) and Christie Stewart (Sally) really steal the show, both with powerful voices and strong dramatic presences,” she writes. “Kale Penny as Charlie is well-cast as the kind-hearted, somewhat gormless guy who never quite gets things right. Better still, all the actors seem to be enjoying themselves on stage, which really infuses the performance with a sense of joyfulness.”

She also credited director and Department of Theatre professor Fran Gebhard for putting  together “a great creative team”—including pianist Adrian Bronson, percussionist Katelyn Clark, choreographer Jacques Lemay, musical director Jim Hill and the design team of professor Allan Stichbury (set) plus Simon Farrow (lights), Allyson Leet and Shayna Ward (costumes), noting “the cast really look like the comic strip characters, right down to their amazing stiff wigs and rolled-down socks.”

Director Fran Gebhard also spoke to the Victoria News in this interview, noting that “Charlie Brown has already stood the test of time. He doesn’t need to be changed to be relevant. Everything these kids go through—depression, anxiety, existentialism, bullying—still plague us today, and the Peanuts gang do a beautiful job of exploring how to overcome these problems on their own.” Gebhard was also interviewed in the March issue of Island Parent magazine, which is currently available around the city.

You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown runs to March 23 at UVic’s Phoenix Theatre. Click here for tickets and showtime information.