by David Pierce
Photos by Emily McKnight
The Iowa City Community Theatre (ICCT) kicks off its 2016-17 season with a strong production of You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown.
This is a bunch of firsts for me. It’s the first time I’ve reviewed a show I know backwards and forwards. It’s the first time I’ve reviewed a show I love. It’s the first time I’ve reviewed a show I was in. I was Linus in a high school production in the mid-70s. “My Blanket And Me” is the first solo I ever sang on stage, and I still find myself at times doing the cheesy tap dance I did as I sang the song. I’ve got both the original cast recording (starring Gary Burghoff with Bob Balaban) and the 1999 Broadway revival recording (starring Anthony Rapp with Kristen Chenoweth). You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown means a lot to me.
Before I go much further, I’d like to talk about the casting. As you may know, an actress was cast as Charlie Brown in this production. If this sort of casting choice is done alongside making some additions to the script in order to bring out another aspect of the text, then it can be interesting. There aren’t any alterations to the script here, nothing to make this casting choice a choice that enhances the text. So does it work? Well, that ultimately depends on the performance. If you spend the entire performance wondering about the casting choice, then it doesn’t work. If you quickly forget about the casting and are caught up in the show, it works.
I have no idea when I quit thinking about the casting choice. All I know is that it happened pretty quickly.
Rachael Rhoads gives a sweet, vulnerable, nuanced performance that gets right to the essence of Charlie Brown. For a production of You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown to be a success, the audience has to find itself rooting the most for Charlie Brown. You might find other characters more entertaining. You might like other characters more. But you have to root for Charlie Brown to succeed more than you root for any other character. Rhoads gives us a Charlie Brown that you can’t help but want to see finally have a happy day.
I wish her voice were a bit stronger from a volume standpoint. It’s a singing voice that is every bit as sweet and vulnerable as her speaking voice, but it occasionally gets drowned out by the pit band. Unfortunately, she’s not the only actor who gets drowned out while singing. But overall, she gives a performance that will move you. I found myself tearing up a little during “Happiness,” and isn’t being touched emotionally the best thing you can hope for from a performer and a play?
One of the things about this show that makes it somewhat of a thankless performance for Charlie Brown is that almost all of the good jokes are given to the other actors. The highlight of this show was Hannah Green as Lucy. No, the highlight of this show was Rubina Vidal as Sally. No, the highlight of this show was Will Callan as Schroeder. No, the – well, you get the idea. Just when I thought one of them had stolen the show, one of the others came along to grab it for themselves. All three brought high energy, strong voices, and perfect comedic timing to every scene they were in.
In fact, there’s not a bad actor in this show. That’s easy to say, of course, when you’ve only got a cast of six people (seven if you count the personification of a blanket). While John Shang as Linus and Yannik Encarnação as Snoopy are also drowned out at times while singing, their acting is spot on. Shang captures the quiet intellectualism of Linus and Encarnação, in a role that is mostly non-verbal, brings the energy and physicality the part requires. Snoopy is often the part most people remember from this play, and you’ll remember Encarnação’s performance.
The other elements of the play work well too. I’ve mentioned before how much I love minimalist sets, and this one is no exception. The blocking makes great use of the performance space. The costuming was strong as well, with costumes that were evocative of the original character designs without being slavishly accurate to them. The sound and lighting add to the overall experience, especially the sequence where Snoopy fights the Red Baron in the moonlight. My only complaint from a technical standpoint is that the actors enter and exit from, among other places, the far corners of the theatre. Normally this wouldn’t be an issue, but a lot of the non-singing parts of the play consist of quick 1 or 2 minute (if not faster) cuts, and the distance the actors have to travel to get onstage means that there is space between a lot of these cuts. They’re all still funny, mind you. It’s just that they would be funnier if they were right on top of each other.
You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown is a great start to the 2016-17 season for ICCT. If all the shows are as good as this, it will be a very good season for ICCT.
Tickets are available here.