REVIEW: “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown" — South Coast Repertory at Mission San Juan Capistrano

Updated: Jul 22, 2021

Charlie Brown: “Well, I guess I'd better see what I've got Peanut Butter! Some psychiatrists say that people who eat peanut butter sandwiches are lonely...I guess they're right!”

When the play, “You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” was first staged on March 7, 1967, at Theatre 80 in New York City, no child back then needed an explanation of the “Peanuts” characters; they were household names in a pint-size world.

More than fifty years later, the names are still familiar, thanks in part to the Knott’s theme park, annual TV specials and reruns through CBS, Disney, as well as the popularity of this musical and other spinoff musicals.

Clark Gesner, who created the music and lyrics for the musical comedy, notes in the foreword to the Random House edition of the script that its success can be largely attributed to Charles M. Schulz's "immensely human view of the world and his special ability to say it for all of us." The show, of course, features the “Peanuts” gang singing and philosophizing through vignettes from little-kid existence: a nail-biting baseball game, a daunting book report, or simply anxiety over losing a favorite blanket. The visual quirkiness is carried through in the actors' oddball characterizations where the characters are both naïvely young and preternaturally adult.

Kelley Dorney, Grace Yoo, Derek Manson, Matthew Henerson, Brian Kim and Ricky Abilez

As a result, the petty but persistent worries that nag at these characters — Charlie Brown's failure ever to fly a kite or receive a Valentine, Lucy's rage at not being able to be a queen ("It's probably just a matter of knowing the right people"), or Schroeder's attempts to bring order into a chaotic world with his beloved Beethoven, remind us that our own grown-up hang-ups are perhaps, just as infantile.

In 1999, a notable Broadway revival premiered, which featured a revised book, as well as additional songs and orchestrations by composer Andrew Lippa — and South Coast Repertory, Orange County’s Tony Award-Winning theatre, now presents this updated version to audiences at the beautiful and historic Mission San Juan Capistrano as part of their Outside SCR Summer Nights of Outdoor Theatre. The show is being performed from July 16th through August 1st.

The heart of the show, as it should be, is Matthew Henerson’s (“She Loves Me”) at once hilarious and nerve-jangling Charlie Brown. Knowing that it’s very difficult to capture the deadpan drollery of the cartoon original, Mr. Henerson lays Charlie's desperation right out for everyone to see, with a manic edge that not only wins our pity, but also makes us want to shake this eternally self-defeating, all too recognizable everyman and say Stop it!

Kelley Dorney and Matthew ​Henerson

Picture Lucy (Kelley Dorney—“The Andrews Brothers”), fragile egomaniac that she is, leaning sugary-sweetly on Schroeder’s piano at a 90-degree angle, or Charlie Brown bending backward in the face of a Lucy rant like a skinny tree in the wind; the actors do it, easily.

The physical performances in Director/Choreographer Kari Hayter’s production are remarkably witty, in fact, right down to the fanciful, rubber-limbed dancing. Charlie Brown’s pitching form? Looks right out of the comic strips.

Brian Kim (“Interstate: The Musical”) as a cool, laid-back Schroeder in a