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Here's Charlie!

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A Review

Here’s Charlie!

By Al Phillips


Let me say before I further discuss the show, that I think “You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown,” which the Ann Arbor Civic Theater is presenting through Saturday In Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre, is one of the best pieces of children’s theater that I have seen in a long time. Let me say too that to sit in a house and watch children enjoy themselves is one of the nicest things in the world.

It is a good children’s show because care and attention to detail went into it, and it shows. I also might add the show holds up very well and even appears better written on repeated viewings.

That is what I think of the production for children. For adults, I think it is a mess. Director Liz Jelinek has fallen into almost every trap that this gossamer-like but sturdy work sets up.

SHE HAS cast people who, by and large, are too old to play children and too young to play adults. So they play children and that’s the problem, because they actually play-act children. With the exception of Richard Lewis as Schroeder, no one on the Mendelssohn stage seems capable of a non-infantile thought.

Yet one of Charles Schultz’s most telling points has been, that in those fragile, scrappy, little bodies sits the germ of the future adult. None of those germs are in this production. Fortunately, Cathy Hilbish McNeela, who plays Lucy, is unable to produce the character the director wanted. Had she been able to, it would have looked like a dry run for the Wicked Witch of the West.

I can’t have been the only person who sat there and wondered, “What kind of mothers would let their kids play things, like baseball, in spiffy, co-ordinated, school clothes and party dresses?”

THE GENERAL energy level is devastating to the show. Every time the orchestra Wednesday night hit an introductory chord, the stage was full of little Sammy Davis Jrs. and Ethel Mermans, all out there to sell, sell, sell those songs. They aren’t those kind of songs. They are gentle little songs that deal with everyday life.

The set is too elaborate and not very workable. At one point, Tom Cooch, as Charlie Brown, had to sing a song about a kite and move rapidly from one level to another. He looked quite uncomfortable and I frankly didn’t blame him.

I fully understand that my objections to the show as adult entertainment might be exactly what the kids liked about it. The whole show might be an attempt to synthesize what children like, the high energy for instance, and what adults find appealing, the elaborate sets. If it is that, it is an honest failure. At that it is still the most appealing children’s theater that I have seen in Ann Arbor in years. And, while we’re on the subject, why doesn’t Civic Theatre do more children’s theater?