You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown


Upstairs at the Gatehouse

YOU’RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN at Upstairs at the Gatehouse


“The show is essentially a series of vignettes lifted from the beloved comic strip. Some of them short, some long, but most of them missing the mark”

On the eve of Valentine’s Day in 2000, the final original ‘Peanuts’ comic strip appeared in newspapers across the world, one day after the death of its creator Charles M. Schulz. It featured Snoopy sitting on top of his doghouse with a typewriter, reflecting on Schulz’s last words in the form of a retirement letter. Floating just above Snoopy’s head were a few thought bubbles containing images; dying flashbacks of moments from the lives of Charlie Brown and his gang. It is signed off with the words “… how can I ever forget them”.

How can anyone ever forget them?

It was written in his will that no further ‘Peanuts’ cartoons could be published after his death. Schulz did, however, consider other media separate from the comic strip. Therefore, feature films and television series have proliferated and, inevitably, a musical or two have popped up. Most notably “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown”, with music and lyrics by Clark Gesner. The origins of this musical go back to the early 1960s when Gesner wrote a handful of songs based on the characters. With no real plans, he sent a demo to Schulz who gave permission for him to properly record them, and they then morphed into the musical that opened on off-Broadway in 1967. Thirty years later, composer Andrew Lippa added extra music and lyrics (with additional dialogue by Michael Mayer), but the stage production still retained the feel of a ‘concept album’.

Amanda Noar’s current revival at Upstairs at the Gatehouse follows suit. The show is essentially a series of vignettes lifted from the beloved comic strip. Some of them short, some long, but most of them missing the mark. It can be challenging for an adult actor to play young children, but Noar has made the fatal mistake of allowing her cast to overact rather than simplify and heighten. Shrieking and running about replace the deadpan, throwaway introspection that is often required from the gorgeous words that have been offered to them on a plate. The cast are working hard at recreating six of the beloved characters: Charlie Brown and his sister Sally, Snoopy the dog, toy piano prodigy Schroeder, and siblings Linus and Lucy. The relationships are well established, particularly that of Schroeder and Lucy’s unrequited love for him. Troy Yip, as the serious Beethoven fan, captures the hunched introspection as he focuses on his miniature baby-grand and little else. Momentarily breaking away, Yip charms us with the jazzy number ‘Beethoven Day’ to celebrate the great composer’s birthday.

Oliver Sidney’s Snoopy is a bit of a lounge lizard, with velvet smooth singing voice to match. The ensemble cast all have accomplished vocals, if often instructed to deliver jarring off-key moments. This would work for a drama where the lack of vocal ability is in character; but it seems an odd choice for a musical. Millie Robbins taps into the eccentricities of Sally Brown but again the precocious intelligence is marred by mistaking innocence for puerility. Similarly so for Eleanor Fransch’s crabby Lucy. Overall, the characters lack the dimension of performance, relying on the childish mannerisms without the compassion shining through.

You don’t need to physically resemble the comic strip characters to convince in the role, but Jordan Broatch’s Charlie Brown could not be further removed. That shouldn’t matter, but we cannot quite suspend our disbelief if the complexity of these seemingly simple characters doesn’t translate from Schulz’s page onto the stage. Jacob Cornish, though, does have the physicality for the thumb-sucking Linus. The deceptive simplicity does come across in the score. On the surface it is pastiche, and a touch saccharine yet is lyrically clever and well observed. It weaves in and out of the narrative but at times the five-piece band, led by musical director Harry Style, appear as apologetic as the titular character of this musical.

Schulz’s genius lay in his ability to keep his well-known characters fresh enough to attract new followers and to keep his current audience wanting more, which he sustained for half a century. The ‘Peanuts Gang’ still continues to entertain and inspire today with his fanciful, observational, bittersweet humour. Unfortunately, the essence of his vision doesn’t quite make it all the way up Highgate Hill for this production which, although delivers with passion, does little to enhance or celebrate the legacy.


YOU’RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN at Upstairs at the Gatehouse

Reviewed on 15th December 2023

by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Simon Jackson




Previously reviewed at this venue:

This Girl: The Cynthia Lennon Story | ★★ | July 2023
How To Build A Better Tulip | ★★ | November 2022
Forever Plaid | ★★★★ | June 2021

You’re a Good Man

You’re a Good Man

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