When Schulz launched his strip in the early 1950s, it was the beginning of the loss-of-innocence age in America (McCarthyism and the atomic bomb), while today's moppets are growing up amid economic scandals, unemployment, and terrorism.
Yet then, as now, the angst among Schulz's adults-to-be mostly revolves around low self-esteem, puppy love, self-absorption, uncooperative kites, and twisted jump ropes. When Sally (Beth Malone) drops her ice cream cone and sighs that her life is a Shakespearean tragedy, we can't help but empathize on some primal level. The joyous laughter of a child in the opening night audience spoke volumes about the show's transcendent appeal.
Director/choreographer Todd Nielsen and a superlative triple-threat cast lavish TLC on Gesner's disarming array of skits and songs, finding warmth and humor in the gently resonant themes of rising above life's challenges. I hadn't seen either the 1967 original or the revisal in 1999, but I understand that Michael Mayer has replaced many of the sketches, the orchestrations are new, the character of Patty has been replaced with Charlie's little sister Sally, and there are two new songs by Andrew Lippa: Schroeder's witty "Beethoven Day" and Sally's showstopping "My New Philosphy."
Stealing almost every scene he's in, Nick DeGruccio makes an uproariously precocious beagle Snoopy, whether prancing through a Fosse-esque paean to his Kibbles 'n' Bits supper or donning shades as a super-cool secret agent. The always splendid Julie Dixon Jackson sparkles as Lucy, a pint-size, Merman-esque control freak, enforcing her domination with either fists or psychological manipulation. Rod Keller is adorably sweet-spirited yet no pushover as the blanket-obsessed Linus. Malone is divinely funny as the daffy blonde Sally, demonstrating spunk when we least expect it. As child prodigy pianist Schroeder, Roger Befeler is a fine musical comedy performer stuck with the most blandly written role. And last but certainly not least, as the title hero, Ed F. Martin is a lovable sad sack, full of fatalism and shattered confidence that is ultimately restored, which is the show's optimistic point.
The design elements match
the excellence of the acting. Bradley Kaye's cartoon-inspired set and the
clever props by MacAndME are delightful. Lisa D. Katz's lighting is superbly
rendered, as are Scott A. Lane's hilarious costumes. Music director Tom
Griffin leads a crackerjack five-person combo. After the show a woman remarked
to her friend about the Colony's segue from the somber drama of The Laramie
Project to this fanciful confection, which is much more difficult to pull
off than it might seem. She asked, "Is there anything this group cannot
do?" Perhaps not.