This Friday through Sunday, the Santa Barbara Children’s Theatre will present the popular musical You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, based on the comic strip Peanuts by Charles Schulz and with music and lyrics by Clark Gesner, in the Center Stage Theater at Paseo Nuevo.
Schulz’s Peanuts comic strip ran from Oct. 2, 1950, to Feb. 13, 2000 (the day after his death). In all, there were 17,897 strips published. “At its peak,” according to Wikipedia, “Peanuts ran in over 2,600 newspapers, with a readership of 355 million in 75 countries, and was translated into 21 languages.”
At the beginning, however, the strip ran in only eight newspapers. During the 1950s, its popularity increased exponentially, and by the early 1960s it was already an American institution of a very personal and peculiar sort. Its characters were all children with ages in the single digits, plus a beagle named Snoopy and later a orphaned bird named Woodstock. Very occasionally, we would hear from adults — off-screen, as it were — but never saw any.
The paradox of Peanuts was that no work of narrative art has ever captured, with so light a touch, the desperate unhappiness and all-consuming narcissism of real children, at the same time as it presented its child characters as impossibly articulate, erudite and sophisticated. (The terrifying young harridan, Lucy van Pelt, set up an orange crate stand with the legend “Psychiatric Care 5¢.” When Charlie Brown came by and poured out his doubts and fears in a stream of heartbreaking eloquence, Lucy concluded with: “Snap out of it! Five cents, please.”)
In the early 1960s, Clark Gesner began writing songs based on the strip’s characters. He approached United Feature Syndicate for permission to use the characters in his songs, and got nowhere. Ultimately, Gesner sent Schulz a tape of some of the songs, the cartoonist was charmed and permission was rapidly granted.
The first form the songs took was in a 1966 “concept album,” which, at the urging of producer Arthur Whitelaw, Gesner then tuned into a stage musical. Under the title You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, the show opened off Broadway on March 7, 1967, and ran in its original production for 1,597 performances. The show was revived in 1999, with additional songs and larger production numbers, and it is the revival that is the basis for the Santa Barbara Children’s Theatre production at Center Stage.
You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown plays at 7 p.m. Friday, and 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $20 for general admission and $15 for students (age 16 or younger). Call the Center Stage box office at 805.963.0408 or click here to order online.
— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.