You know you’re going to smile when you get a chance to spend some time with the crew of the good old Peanuts cartoons, and it certainly helps when you get a great group of earnest young actors together to put on a show like “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown.”
The cast is fine-tuned to a T in the North Fork Community Theatre’s new production, which opened March 8 and continues for two more weekends through March 25.
From bumbling Charlie Brown to philosopher Linus to his bossy sister Lucy, absurd Peppermint Patty and brooding pianist Schroeder, these kids, all high school-aged, put their hearts into unveiling the inner thoughts of the toddlers they embody. And Snoopy, of course, steals the show, as he’s been plotting to all along. They’re characters we all know well, worn in like a comfort blanket, and, yet, the actors find their own way into their subjects’ hearts and minds.
The premise of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” is straightforward. It’s a series of vignettes, based heavily on the comic strip, put into song with music and lyrics by Clark Gesner.
Some of these musical numbers are just wonderful. “The Book Report,” in which the ensemble members each work on their own version of a book report about “Peter Rabbit,” is a multi-layered piece in which each kid comes at the book report with an entirely different understanding of the subject matter, and with different emotional baggage about the whole idea of doing a book report in the first place.
Another number, “Glee Club Rehearsal,” is equally impressive, but instead of building up cast members’ contributions, they gradually disintegrate as the characters quit in frustration over their petty squabbles.
Musical director Marguerite Volonts brings her chops on the piano to bear, heading up a spartan but accomplished pit orchestra comprised solely of herself, guitarist Bob Blank and percussionists Crystal Crespo and Will Green.
Director Manning Dandridge coaxes great performances out of this cast.
David Lopez as Snoopy steals this show, as easily as any beagle grabbing a chicken off the table and running away to enjoy his feast. In his own world, chasing the Red Baron, tickled by Woodstock, dreaming of dinner, he is a barely tamed savage beast, beloved by the crowd even as he’s barely noticed by the Peanuts gang stuck on their lives around him.
The kids of the Peanuts crew are all delightful and well-cast. Leah Kerensky is just about the bossiest and crabbiest Lucy you’ll meet. Jason Rios brings a shy, self-effacing shuffle to Charlie Brown. Ryan Nowak a smirky and socratic Linus, and his blanket seems to have feelings too. Kat Motlenski seems delighted to utter Peppermint Patty’s absurdities, and Ben Eager as Schroeder loves his piano, and Beethoven, more than anything he sees around him.
“You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” runs through March 25, with showtimes Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m., with an opening night reception March 8 at 7 p.m.
Tickets are $25 for general admission, and student rush tickets may be available, but are not guaranteed, for $20 beginning 10 minutes before each performance. To buy tickets, call the box office at 631.298.NFCT or visit nfct.com.