CF’s back with Charlie Brown and the gang

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Posted April 6, 2022 | By Julie Garisto

Collin Williams as Schroeder, left, and Elizabeth Cromwell as Lucy Van Pelt, right, rehearse a scene from “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown” at the College of Central Florida on Monday, April 4, 2022. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette].

The College of Central Florida’s theater department is back with its first full-length production in two years.

This weekend’s production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, staged in the Dassance Fine Arts Center, takes audiences back in time to the Peanuts comic strips and Charles Schulz’s beloved animated film.

Director Nonalee Davis selected the 1967 play because it’s a colorful and comical break from the troubles of today.

“When people come to see the show, they’ll just have a good time enjoying a genuinely feel-good musical,” Davis said.

Davis, like many others, appreciates that Peanuts provides more than a chuckle here and there. Charles Schulz’s comics are fables for children in modern times; they are inclusive and representative of all types of kids before debates over diversity became part of the zeitgeist.

“There’s an article, an assignment of sorts, one of those ‘Read, Write, Think’ articles, and it has lessons learned from Charlie Brown,” Davis added. “I loved it so much that I put it in my director’s notes.”

The lessons are also in the play’s DNA. They include it’s OK to be afraid, but don’t let your fears control you. Also, persistence wins out. It’s what you think of others and what you think of yourself that counts. Sometimes you need to talk, sometimes you need to listen. And, love what you do.

“Also, it’s important to have friends that care,” Davis added. “Big dreams lead to big things, and my favorite is to laugh every day. Schulz’s main message, however, is resilience” (why Charlie Brown keeps trying to kick the football even after Lucy swipes it away every time).

Musical director Jason Longtin provides the show’s accompaniment playing keyboards and even has a kazoo credit. He provides all the percussion from his keys, and award-winning organist John Lowe adds his keyboard stylings to the show. The musical score is from the 1990s revival of the original Broadway show.

Following in creator Schulz’s footsteps, Davis has enlisted a diverse cast. “When you look at the stage, you’re gonna see somebody who represents you, from body types to everything else that diversity represents,” she affirmed.

Ta’Shun Washington plays everyone’s favorite misfit, Charlie Brown, and Anelisse Lopez plays his sister, Sally. Elizabeth Cromwell conjures the bully-with-a-heart Lucy Van Pelt, and Landon Williams is the thumb-sucking, blanket-clutching philosopher Linus Van Pelt.

Rounding out the principals are Collin Williams as musical prodigy Schroeder, and River Watkins as Snoopy, American comics’ most versatile dog. The ensemble cast features Kailey Blosser, Dylan Dreitlein, Juliet Holloway-Hart, Jonathan Snell and Madison Thacker.

“What I love about our cast is they’re so talented,” Davis effused. “Although it’s a small department, we’re building it back after COVID. I’ve been really lucky to have such fun and such willing students. They’re willing to do whatever it takes. They all have the ability to dance, sing and act, what we call the ‘triple threat’ in the theater.”

Added to CF’s production–not in the original cast–is Snoopy’s feathered friend, Woodstock, played by Erica Morales, who’s also dance captain of the show, plus secondary characters including Peppermint Patty, Marcie and Pig-Pen. The teacher Ms. Othmar “Wawa,” even joins the show, played by Nathan Tieche. The nickname is an onomatopoeic riff on the wordless sounds adults make in the TV cartoon specials.

Director Davis, who has experience as a TV stuntwoman, is an expert at physical comedy and blocking. She enlists Melanie Spratt as co-choreographer to ensure that the dance numbers are as polished as they are high energy and hilarious. Expect some familiar moves such as that wacky pony dance from the cartoons and moves that are “absolutely Fosse,” a nostalgic nod to the 1960s.

Stage manager Rebecca Kurland and her assistant, Ny’Aja Delima, have had their hands full putting You’re a Good Man together. Expect “primary colors all over the stage,” said Davis, and familiar Peanuts’ staples such as the famous hedge where Charlie and Linus would comment on human foibles. There’s Snoopy’s doghouse, a hydrant, Woodstock’s nest, Lucy’s psychiatric booth and Schroeder’s piano. Davis also says to watch out for a “surprise school bus.”

Brianna Jackson adds the lighting and scenic painting, and Trey Moore aims to get the audience giggling with his audio.

Costumes (by Kurland) are faithful to the comic strip. “Charlie Brown’s even wearing the yellow-and-squiggle shirt,” Davis said with a laugh.

Performances of CF’s You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown are at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, April 7-9, and 3 p.m. Sunday, April 10, at the Dassance Fine Arts Center, 3001 S.W. College Road, Ocala. 

Tickets are $12 for adults and $6 for non-CF students and can be purchased at CF.edu/Musical or by calling 352-873-5810. Tickets are free for CF students, faculty and staff with valid I.D. For more information about CF events, visit CF.edu.