by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
Good old Charlie Brown is back and will be in residence until September 22 at St. Marys, Georgia, on stage in the 1987 musical “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown! Less than fifty miles north of Jacksonville, you can enjoy the colorful creations of the late Charles Schulz, with Charlie of course, along with Snoopy, Sally, Lucy, Linus, Schroeder, and other favorites.
Why has this musical endured and why has “Peanuts” pleased so many generations, young and old? Perhaps because there is a little Charlie Brown in each of us. Everyone has failed, or experienced feelings of inferiority, or been humiliated, often repeatedly. But Charlie Brown always survives, and so do we. This delightful musical gives us all faith and hope that we will one day be liked and loved again.
In addition to seeing a classic musical, the unique setting of the production is another good reason to plan a day trip to the quaint coastal town of St. Marys. It is performed at Theatre By The Trax, a large brick building previously used for repairing railroad locomotives. The historic building was scheduled for demolition several years ago, but was instead purchased by DOUG and JEANNE VAUGHT, the current owners, and repurposed as a theatre. The facility provides both a venue for live productions and space and technical support for commercial film production.
BARBARA RYAN, publisher of “St. Marys Magazine” started St. Marys Little Theatre and has produced and directed a number of shows at the Trax venue during the past three years. Ms. Ryan always had a love for theatre and began college as a musical theatre major. When she observed that even the most talented of her fellow classmates were having difficulty finding jobs in theatre, she decided marketing might be a more promising major. She kept her love of theatre and has written a number of plays and musicals.
Starting and running a theatre is both demanding and expensive . St. Marys has done it with the help of citizens and businesses in the area, rather than with local or state grants. The show is performed on a raised stage that is 100 feet long, in an auditorium with 150 seats. Sound technician TIMMY SCHMITT has installed a system that mikes the performers, very helpful in this large space.
The set design by STEVEN JONES includes the icons you would expect to find in this musical, with Snoopy’s big red dog house, Lucy’s Psychiatric Help 5¢ booth, and a big yellow school bus. The costumes by PATTY MARTIN are colorful and creative, including, as expected, an eye-catching yellow shirt with a black zigzag stripe for Charlie and a pink dress with polka dots for Sally.
The main characters are played by adults, with the supporting characters varying in age from six years old or so to much older adults. Under the direction of Ms. Ryan, the cast members do not just imitate what they have seen in the comics or TV specials but actually seem to love the little people they portray and all the performances are full of warmth.
This is the first major singing role for college student CHARLIE PORTER who plays Charlie Brown. After a bit of opening nervousness, Porter’s confidence and vocal strength soared and he was very believable as Mr. Good Grief, Charlie Brown!
STEVEN JONES, as Snoopy, was wonderful. Obviously a veteran actor, he is not only very funny, but has an excellent voice and great comic timing.
LAUREL SEYMOUR plays Sally Brown, Charlie’s younger sister. Ms. Seymour is very animated as she explains her frustration with the little things in life.
TORI ANN SMITH, as Lucy Van Pelt, rates very high on the crabbiness scale and is also the show’s champion in projecting her voice. She uses wonderful diction as she struts and frets with an arrogant attitude.
T. J. STOFFLET, as Linus, Lucy’s brother, has his ever-present security blanket in hand and in fact leads the entire company in the delightful song “My Blanket and Me”, choreographed by LISA ALLEN AND RAKIA MAY.
Beethoven’s biggest fan in the world, Schroeder (LISA ALLEN), spends most of the show tickling the ivories on a miniature piano and extolling the virtues of this famous composer.
Other cast members who make frequent appearances in skits, songs and vignettes capture the essence of the Peanuts characters. They include: Franklin (L. J. WILLIAMS), Peppermint Patty (KIMBERLY DOHERTY), Marcie (CATHERINE PACE), Pig-Pen (JACK O’CONNELL), Rerun Van Pelt (IAN DOHERTY), Woodstock (CHRISTOPHER MAY-RUSSELL), and Harriet the Bird (LEXI CARTER).
The fine orchestra led by Musical Director MEGAN FRIESE-KAUFMAN includes KEVIN PERRYMAN, SHANNON CARTER, MERILEE AKLAND, BACKY RASSI, CAROL SMITH, PAM UNGER, JEFFERY UNGER, CRYSTAL MURPHY, LAURA INGALIS and CHRIS FISETTE.
To capture the full ambiance of the waterfront village of St. Marys, the Dual Critics spent the night at The Goodbread House Bed & Breakfast Inn, a story you will also find on the EU website.
To raise funds for the theatre on October 5 and 12, The St. Marys Railroad Express will have open air train ride excursions, with narration and entertainment at locations along the route. Great fun for the entire family. For more information go to stmarysrailroad.com.
If you want to see a unique production of one of the world’s most popular and widely produced musicals, don’t miss “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown” and be sure to take the kids. For ticket information, see stmaryslittletheatre.com.
YOU'RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN
by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM