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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Tymp’s ‘Good Man’ an enjoyable find

Published: March 30, 2012
Section: Arts, Etc., Top Stories

“Why is it that I always have supper in the red dish and my drinking water in the yellow dish?” a wise beagle asks himself in the musical “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown,” which Tympanium Euphorium is staging this weekend.

“One of these days, I’m going to have my supper in the yellow dish and my drink water in the red dish. Life’s just too short not to live it up a little.”

This beagle might just be the most famous canine in existence—he’s Snoopy, Charlie Brown’s dog from the legendary comic strip “Peanuts.” In “Good Man,” Snoopy asks a lot of big questions. And he’s not alone: Existential malaise plagues all of Charles Schulz’s famous creations.

When you think of “Peanuts” today, it’s easy to think of all the chipper merchandise that now bears its characters—think pencils, stamps, lunchboxes. At heart, however, these characters are profoundly uncertain about themselves and often unhappy, even though most of them are only five years old. In the world of “Good Man,” philosophical crises go hand-in-hand with lunchtime PB&J. “I’m so depressed,” Charlie Brown (Charlie Madison ’15) tells his nemesis Lucy (Rebecca Miller ’13). He’s not kidding.

This is not to say “Good Man” is depressing. Quite the opposite: It’s a delightful musical that reveals all the good things we forget about when we get bogged down by minutiae. Sure, Charlie finds himself forever alone and in possession of an unfortunate “failure face,” as Lucy puts it. But hey, he’s a pretty great guy with some nice friends.

“Good Man” is a slight musical, but this isn’t an entirely bad thing. There’s little plot here; instead, the musical is comprised of several vignettes that are thematically linked. In choosing this structure, the show mimics Schulz’s comic strips, which never featured any grand arcs or unexpected plot twists. “Peanuts” was essentially a character piece, and the same is true of “Good Man.” When we witness Charlie mope about Valentine’s Day and his best friend Linus (Danny Steinberg ’15) consider life sans safety blanket, we’re not interested in what happens next—no, we’re interested in how these familiar characters will act and the entertaining songs they’ll sing.

Because the appeal of “Good Man” rests so heavily on its characters, a strong cast is required, and in this regard Tymp’s production—directed by Jeremy Weinberg ’12—definitely doesn’t disappoint. The show features seven actors, each of whom brings a palpable energy that never wavers.

As the titular Charlie Brown, Madison captures the sad-sack demeanor that colors everything Charlie does. Charlie is usually pretty subdued, but that doesn’t mean he has to disappear. Madison ensures that Charlie is never overshadowed by his more colorful cohorts, though he sometimes struggles to project his voice. This problem also dogged Karan Malik ’15 as Shroeder on opening night, though Malik otherwise brings an appropriately reserved passion to his junior composer.

Kate Davis ’14 imbues Charlie’s sister Sally with a real childlike energy. She’s more than capable of presenting all of Sally’s mood swings, going from chipper one moment to vexed in another. “I was jumping rope … everything was fine, then it all seemed so futile,” she tells us.

As crabby Lucy, Miller carries herself with an authoritarian swagger. After all, this is a girl who dreams of being a queen and certainly has the sense of entitlement you expect to encounter in an absolute monarch. If anything, Miller might not have made her Lucy as annoying as she could have.

Steinberg makes for a fine Linus, ably capturing the character’s sincerity and somber inquisitiveness. His best moment comes when he serenades his blanket, spinning it around in the air.

Before seeing the show, it was most difficult to imagine Snoopy being brought to the stage. After all, he never speaks in the classic cartoon specials. With Levi Squier ’14 in the role, you quickly get over this, as he embodies the kind of spastic daydreamer Snoopy is. There’s also Herbie Rosen ’12 as Snoopy’s avian friend Woodstock, a silent character not included in the original musical. To get the appropriate look, he wears a yellow onesie and a cap with yellow feathers. His yellow face-paint, though, is a bit too much (and also a tad scary).

Every cast member is an able singer, and they get ample support from the show’s stellar orchestra, led by Mindy Cimini ’12.

The sets, designed by Jessica Rassp ’13, capture the spirit of the original comic strips. A yellow fence brings a row of crayons to mind, while Snoopy’s iconic red doghouse figures prominently. In a clever nod to the musical’s origins, Schulz’s signature appears in one of the set’s corners, while newspapers border the set’s top.

Once the show ends, there’s a chance many of the vignettes from “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown” won’t stick with you, but here that’s not important. Happiness, we’re told, “is anything that is loved by you.” Based on the audience’s reaction on opening night, there’s a good chance this show’s iconic characters, catchy tunes and fun performances will place it firmly in the “love” category.