Gary Burghoff, Bob Balaban in Stage Version of ‘Peanuts’


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March 16, 1967, Vol. XII, No. 22

Theatre Journal

By Michael Smith

“You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” is a fast, slick, amiable little diversion — a musical revue based on Charles M. Schulz’s comic strip “Peanuts.” It consists of fairly literal enactments of short (daily) and long (Sunday) episodes, some of them elaborated into songs and musical numbers. By contrast to most revues, including its cousin “The Mad Show,” its thematic unity is genuine and almost too complete — wry adorableness, poignant inadequacy, unjust frustration are its varieties of tone. In large measure they are effective according to one’s prior affection for the characters: Charlie Brown himself, his dog Snoopy, and Lucy, Schroeder, Linus, Patty. Mine didn’t survive “Happiness Is a Warm Puppy.”

The show’s ambitions are insipid and routine but perfectly realized and utterly inoffensive, and plenty of people will just love it.

My own response was indifference and occasional impatience. Surprisingly little is lost in the course of adaptation to the stage, but nothing much is gained either. The substitution of bright, pro, adult performers for drawings of little children threatens overcuteness, but Joseph Hardy, the director, avoids it by keeping the show brisk, deadpan, cool to sentiment. I’m not crazy about the kids’ ironic sophistication — hip attitudes, psychoanalytic jargon, etc. — but at least they don’t mess with grown-up emotions. The failings are basic to the revue form. Despite ingenious variation, the parade of episodes takes on a repetitive and ambling rhythm. Despite the charm of individual moments, there is no dramatic line to link and organize them; the sum of the parts — each another statement of the same fragile perception — is equal to any one of them, somewhat dulled by familiarity. “Peanuts” collections are perfect bathroom reading but simply too thin for a whole evening’s attention. Sweet, bright, but thin.

“Charlie Brown” takes on a life of its own when, in a few musical numbers, it breaks its form and really exploits the new medium. “Suppertime,” a song and dance by Bill Hinnant as Snoopy the dog, is the high point of the show — an outburst of pure show-biz virtuosity. Other such effusions are the first-act quartet, a book report on “Peter Rabbit”; “The Red Baron,” Snoopy’s World War I flying fantasy; and Linus’s “My Blanket and Me.” Otherwise the songs, by Clark Gesner, simply reinforce the general charm and punctuate the succession of scenes. Like the entire show, they are smoothly serviceable; like the entire they are good examples of something I’m not interested in.

Bill Hinnant as Snoopy is the most strikingly talented of the cast, but all of them do well by their cartoon characters: Gary Burghoff faces Charlie Brown’s constant frustrations with blank but cheerful resignation; Reva Rose makes Lucy’s assertive crabbiness seem likeably natural; Skip Hinnant as Schroeder accepts the world’s deafness to Beethoven with stunned disbelief; Bob Balaban as Linus clings to his security blanket with hysterical devotion; Karen Johnson is pretty and eager as Patty, the extra girl. Jules Fisher’s lighting is helpfully bright and colorful and intelligently avoids blackouts, but his chief special effect — primary shapes projected onto the eye — is only half done.

[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on February 3, 2010


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