You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown

You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown

Harvest Rain Theatre

21st – 31st March 2012

Reviewed by Meredith McLean

Before the lights went down and the rain began to patter on the warehouse’s roof I realised the actors I was about to see had a challenge ahead of them. You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown is not a new and upcoming production. Neither is it a recent hit that has come to tour Brisbane. This is a musical comedy that was first performed in 1967, redone and adapted many times over by many theatre companies, high schools and performers alike. The challenge for this young but nonetheless inspiring cast was to make this performance their own. After seeing the show I believe they did just that.

It was very easy for them to win me over. The characters of Charlie Brown have always been a part of my childhood. I used to watch the television series religiously every Saturday morning so I was happy to be reunited with a childhood favourite in the Harvest Rain Theatre.

I have to stress if you haven’t seen the musical in any of its previous productions do not expect a linear plot. Don’t even try it. Despite Charlie Brown being the title character the ensemble cast of Lucy, Linus, Sally, Schroeder, and of course Snoopy each have their turn to befriend and humour you. The musical is a series of skits, all of which will no doubt make you laugh and want to sing along.

I was disappointed by one recurring mistake. A very simple error but once I heard it, it couldn’t be ignored. A few of the cast members at one time or another, and sometimes more than once, stuttered or muddled a line. That one break in the flow of what feels almost real let me down. Certainly because this is a musical their voice is everything in this production. The songs are important naturally but their vocals shouldn’t compensate for the dialogue.

Each and every one of the cast members has a wonderful voice. It’s something I truly envy. Tom Oliver stepped up to the challenge of the title character. If Charlie Brown were a real person he’d be something like Oliver’s performance. Tom is no stranger to musical theatre. He has made the rounds in well-known musicals such as A Very Potter Musical as well as classics like Jesus Christ Superstar.

But like I said, Charlie Brown is not the focus of this musical. Two names I thought absolutely need to be commended for this production is Matt Johnston and Alex Valentine who played Snoopy and Sally respectively. Alex’s voice and Matt’s charisma won me over instantly. This duo share some wonderful scenes as well as their own that remain unforgettable. When they’re not busy chasing rabbits their songs fill the room.

Alex Valentine has crafted her talents from a young age. She has studied dance and vocals extensively taking herself from the Twelfth Night Theatre to QPAC as well as many productions at the Harvest Rain Theatre.

Snoopy was possibly my favourite character in this production. Looking over Matt Johnston’s work in performance it is clear he is a character actor. One of the most entertaining character actors I’ve seen in a long time. At first I wondered if it’s difficult to play a dog. But after reading his roles such as the mad hatter and more recently the Lion in The Wizard of Oz at QPAC amongst other characters, it is easy to see he is in his element. He gave off an almost Nathan Lane-esque aura about him. Certainly not a side of Snoopy I’d ever thought of but nonetheless absolutely enjoyed.

The cast isn’t the only hard workers in this production though. They are the result of three very talented people.  Firstly Sophie Woodward needs to be applauded for the musical direction of this production. Although each of the cast were impressive with their voices alone my favourite songs were always the ones that collectively pulled each voice together into a harmony. But this is not a musical to be considered dull. George Canham choreographed each performance. The vivid movements under his guide made the audience want to dance too. Finally, there is the woman who pulled it all together, Meg Ham. She has had experience on and off the stage. She set out with a musical that has been done so often and made it into a fresh performance.

This is also the second production to fly the AFFILIATE PROJECT flag. A project the Harvest Rain Theatre has begun conducting to get the passion of independent producers works onto the stage. I’ve been following it closely since their first Affiliate Project Production and hope to see more.

When the stage opened with poor old Charlie and his neurotic musings I panicked. I thought, “Oh God, it’s a musical about me!” His monologue of self-doubt, confusion, over-thinking and worrisome concerns all embodied a late night session of my thoughts before I fall asleep. I turned to a friend and indulged her in this observation when she replied, “That’s funny, and I was wondering if they’d written a musical about my life.” That’s when I realised we’re all a bit of a Charlie Brown. Not necessarily our football punting skills or our ability to fly a kite but the nervousness that keeps us going. That awkwardness in your step when seeing someone you have a bit of a crush on. It’s something everyone can relate to.

That’s why Charlie Brown always has a soft spot in my heart. But more to the point that’s why it is worth it to see this production of You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown, to see with your own eyes Charlie’s struggles, Snoopy’s antics and the hilarious dilemmas of the entire cast.

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