Happiness is a Warm Puppy at the Tabard

‘You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown’ charms a Peanuts nerd


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‘You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown’ at the Tabard is a sheer delight. It is colourful, witty, funny, energetic and utterly charming. And the Tabard’s staging of this revised version of the 1960s hit is a UK first.

The show is faithful to the ideas of its inspiration, Charles M. Schulz’s Peanuts strip cartoons featuring the children Charlie Brown and his friends and family. The dialogue and the songs are more or less word for word taken from these scripts. Fans therefore won’t be disappointed. But you don’t have to be a Peanuts obsessive like me to enjoy it. Most people in the audience weren’t even born when Charlie and chums first came blinking into the sunlight in 1950, and they laughed and applauded as loudly as the oldies.

Each of the cartoon characters is recognisable from the off. Charlie Brown (Lewis Barnshaw), the everyman who still can’t fly his kite; bossy, crabby Lucy (Leanne Jones), too-smart-for-her-own-good Charlie’s little sister Sally (Hayley Gallivan); philosophical beyond his years but still inseparable from his comfort blanket, Lucy’s baby brother Linus (Adam Ellis); Beethoven-obsessed Schroeder (Nathaniel Morrison) – and that well known dog Snoopy (Mark Anderson). They are all played to perfection by a very talented singing and dancing crew. The attention to detail is impressive - the girls’ hair-dos and Lucy’s freckles in particular.

All the original themes are in place – the little red-headed girl who is Charlie Brown’s crush, always out of sight to us and out of reach to him; Schroeder with his little piano, always 14 days to Beethoven’s birthday and Lucy never taking no for an answer in her determined attempts to marry him;. Snoopy sleeping on top of his kennel, which becomes a Sopwith Camel in a Red Baron fantasy. Even the little bird Woodstock and his little tweeting chums make a guest appearance.

Linus knows he can’t give up his comfort blanket and is tortured by a nightmare of dancing blankets when he tries. Sally is thoughtful beyond her years and the song of her coat hanger sculpture argument is priceless. Lucy has a never ending ambitions to be queen in spite of Linus’s attempts to educate her on the notion of hereditary honours. He quotes Socrates, which cuts no ice as Lucy screams “Socrates – did she ever get to be queen”.

Many years ago Charles Schulz was my favourite philosopher. I hung on every word spoken by his little alter egos and even stuck my favourites on my wall at work. Later, I went to university and I studied ‘proper’ philosophers like Sartre and Camus and their ideas of existentialism. I’m happy to say the mark they left on me was minimal. I returned to my first and favourite great thinker and his brand of existentialism. Now I have only two books on the French duo and a whole shelf full of Peanuts books.

As a Peanuts nerd I went to the show with mixed feelings. Would they be true to the original or would all my faithful little friends (and I) be let down? I needn’t have worried as it stays true to the spirit of Schulz, even when they burst frequently into song and dance, which they do with gusto. The direction by Anthony Drewe and choreography by Nick Winston transforms the tiny Tabard stage into a childhood wonderland.

It even included one of my favourite jokes, the one where Sally berates Snoopy for sleeping on a lovely day and tells him he should be out chasing rabbits to which Snoopy retorts “if it’s such a nice day why spoil it for the rabbits”. Of course, only the audience can hear him, he’s still a dog to the children, we alone are privy to his sarcasm. I’m not spoiling it for you by giving away the punchlines. I know them by heart and they still made me laugh.

The first version of ‘You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown’ opened in New York in 1967 and went on to become the most produced musical in history playing all over the world. In 1997, they decided to update it, and producer Michael Meyer went to meet Charles Schulz to ensure his ideas got the blessing of the master. By this time the original was dated it needed updating without losing its essence.

Schulz was so pleased with Meyer’s ideas for the new show that he gave him access to the 32 years of Peanuts scripts created since the original show, to develop a new, up to date show. Seventeen of the original scenes were removed and replaced by 21 new ones, a new composer was brought in to write some new songs and rearrange the old ones and the dances were reordered and re-jigged. The only major change was that Peppermint Patty was replaced with Sally Brown. This was a good idea as Patty with her funny nose and odd life style had become sidelined in the cartoons, with the more cheerful and intelligent Sally taking a more prominent role.

The show ends with a lovely clap-along number called ‘Happiness’ in which they list all the things that make them happy, even Snoopy joins in. The conclusion is that happiness is anything that is loved by you. For me happiness will always be a warm puppy, but that’s the magic of Peanuts.

Don’t miss it. And if this production goes to the West End, which it deserves, you can boast that you saw it first at The Tabard.

Penny Flood

To book your tickets visit www.tabardtheatre.co.uk

October 10, 2011

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