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Peanuts gang comes alive at CHS theater production

The latest Claremont High School theater production has something in common with their last presentation: It features CHS teens starring as schoolchildren.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee centered on the aspirations of a bunch of academically precocious misfits. The new show, by contrast, focuses on kids who are perennially popular, if not among their peers, at least among audiences worldwide.

On Friday and Saturday, April 19 and 20, the students will perform You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, which follows the misadventures of Charles Schultz’ Peanuts gang. Protagonists include hapless Charlie Brown, bossy Lucy, blanket-toting Linus, feisty Sally, musically-minded Schroeder and, of course, a dog named Snoopy.

CHS music director Joel Wilson teaches, along with theater director Krista Carson Elhai, the Children’s Theater course that this year culminated with the comic strip redux. He said he is quite fond of the musical, which first premiered in 1967, which premiered in 1967 featuring a score by Clark Gesner and then was revived in 1999, with new music added by Andrew Lippa. 

“These are characters everyone can relate to. It’s a classic cartoon that has transcended generations,” Mr. Wilson said. “The songs are adorable. It’s almost as if Charles Schultz wrote the music himself.”

The musical evokes more than the usual nostalgia for Ms. Elhai, because she played Lucy in the production when she was a CHS theater student. Incidentally, this year’s production takes place in the newly renovated Don F. Freuchte Theatre for the Performing Arts, which was named after the teacher who directed her turn as a member of the Peanuts.

“It’s really timeless. I can still read Charlie Brown comics and enjoy them,” Ms. Elhai said. “Plus, it is so musical theater. It brings out the life in everyone, and takes you back to when you were a child.”

Senior Scotty Jacobsen is serving as assistant director of the show, which represents his first time helming a production rather than taking the stage.

“I definitely have fallen in love with it,” he said. “I like being on the other side of the stage for a change.”

Scotty, who in the fall will join the Commercial Dance program at Pace University in New York, said that Ms. Elhai push for perfection has left him feeling ready for a collegiate performance program.

“At some high schools, they make their productions easy and fun. Elhai really distinguishes between professionalism and fun, and gives you a good mix of both qualities,” he said.

And it’s hard not to have fun while staging a show about a worrywart in a zigzag shirt, played by CHS Comedy Sportz Team alum Damien Perard, and his beagle.

“There’s a real innocence to Charlie Brown, and everyone is familiar with it,” Scotty said.

You might think that casting a girl as Snoopy might impede the crowd’s suspension of disbelief, already strained by the whole talking-dog thing. After all, Snoopy’s famous alter-ego is the Red Baron, not the Red Baroness.

Devin Bradley’s performance, however—perching on Snoopy’s iconic red dog house, leading a kick-line to celebrate his supper, and bounding through the audience while hunting rabbits—is one of the highlights of the show.

Another bright spot is the scenery, a schoolyard-conjuring setup of crayon-bright boxes and trees flanked by Snoopy’s wooden digs and Charlie Brown’s disappointingly empty mailbox.

Just as in Mr. Schultz’s comics, books and movies, Charlie Brown admires the Little Redhead Girl from afar, and struggles to manage a rag-tag baseball team quick to foul out and blame their leader. Lucy (Alex Ubalde) dispenses psychiatric advice for a nickel when she’s not stalking budding piano virtuoso Schroeder (Angel Ku). Sally (Sara Schroerlucke) laments the unfairness of the school system and the world at large, while Snoopy lives the good life.

CHS’s You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown features a talented cast, a heartfelt story and charming songs like “Happiness Is,” which offers a kid’s-eye view of joy: “Happiness is 2 kinds of ice cream/Knowing a secret/Climbing a tree/Happiness is 5 different crayons/Catching a firefly/Setting him free.”

Performances are set for tonight, Friday, April 19, at 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. and Saturday, April 20  at 4:30, 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. They will be held in the Freuchte Theatre, located at Claremont High School. Admission is $8, with tickets available at the door as well as at http://chstheatre.cusd.claremont.edu.

—Sarah Torribio

storribio@claremont-courier.com

 

 

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