Book by John Gordon (Really Gesner, and the cast and crew of the original production.)
Music & Lyrics by Clark Gesner
adapted from Peanuts, the comic strip by Charles Schulz

INFO:

Opened at Theater 80 (Off-Broadway)   March 7, 1967   1,597 performances
Original Director: Joseph Hardy
Original Choreographer: Patricia Birch
Original Producer:Arthur Whitelaw and Gene Persson
Original Leads: Charlie Brown: Gary Burghoff    Lucy: Reva Rose    Snoopy: Bill Hinnant    Schroeder: Bob Balaban
Cast Size: Male: 3-4    Female: 2-3    Ensemble: 0   Total Cast Size: 6, you may add other characters and even an ensemble of CB’s friends (but you’re not supposed to…)
Orchestra: 5, but can be (and often is) done with just Piano and Drums, as it was in the original Off-Broadway, so let’s say 2.
Published Script: Random House
Production Rights: Tams Witmark
Recordings: The best is the original Off-Broadway by Decca, 1967. The show was revived for Broadway in 1999, with some new material.
Film: There is a fully animated version of the musical, directed by Bill Melendez, pretty good! Recommended.
Other shows by the authors: Snoopy (Well, other authors, same idea.)
Awards: Outer Critics Circles, Outstanding Off-Broadway Musical, 1967; Drama Desk Award Outstanding Revival of a Musical, 1999

WHO SHOULD DO THIS SHOW:

I think just about everyone can do this show. It has many great advantages. It is a VERY inexpensive show to do, perhaps the least expensive of any well-known musical that is actually worth doing. It is perhaps the easiest of the really good shows to pull off well. The casting is relatively easy to accomplish. The technical values (sets, costumes, lighting) are very simple. The orchestra requirements are equally simple. And who does not know the Peanuts characters? Charlie Brown, Lucy, Snoopy are three of the best-known characters everywhere, and I mean everywhere. So promoting this show and finding an audience for it is much easier than for many other shows.

This show is pretty much perfect for small theater groups, high schools, private schools, small college productions, back yards, summer stock, and it worked beautifully Off-Broadway and when played in small professional theaters around the world. The demands may be excessive for some Jr. High programs- but I have to say that I’ve done productions of this show with Elementary School kids, and they worked just fine. This show is age-appropriate for any age group. Kids will love the characters and their foibles. Adults cherish their own memories of Peanuts, and the characters are old friends. You really cannot go wrong playing this show anywhere, to anyone.

Be Warned: This is a small, intimate show, though it has great vitality and charm. It will not fill the stage of a large theater as well as it will a smallish theater. There is no ensemble, a very spare orchestration, one set comprised of a few wooden blocks. If your audience requires big production values, or your theater or stage are on the large size, this may not be the best show for you.

Also, this is one of the most produced shows in the world, and it has been since its first production in 1967. I would discover whether or not it has been recently produced in your area before deciding to do it. (Two years is long enough to wait between productions of this show, I suspect.) This may not matter if you have a subscription audience, or a very devoted audience that comes to your theater no matter what. But if you are competing for audiences with other local theaters, you should at least check this out.

One more thought. If your audience insists for some strange reason on “serious” fare…if they are entirely Russian, perpetually drunk and in grief, or members of “The World’s Coming To An End Club,” this show isn’t going to work for them. This is a “feel good” kind of show. If you are trying to demonstrate serious theatrical or literary pretensions to your audience at this time, move on to more “serious” fare. And I do feel sorry for you.

THE STORY:

This is based on the original 1967 Off-Broadway version, the strongest version of the musical, in my opinion.

ACT ONE: The show is “An average day in the life of Charlie Brown”, and features Lucy, Linus, Schroeder, Patty, and inevitably, Snoopy. No story is told. Instead, we’re treated to a series of blackout sketches, vignettes involving all or just a few of the characters, ending invariably in a black out. So describing the acts would require my telling you the jokes. I’m going to skip that. I’ll tell you MOST of the jokes, starting the start of Act One. Everyone celebrates Charlie Brown and what a great guy he is, announcing that he could “be king,” and even crowning him…until Lucy reminds us “If only you weren’t so wishy-washy.” (“You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown”) This is followed by Charlie Brown in a long monologue, bemoaning his miserable, lonely life. He sees the Little Red Headed Girl (we do not), the girl of his dreams, and thinks about walking over and even talking to her. Embarrassed and thinking that she may have noticed him looking, he covers his head with his lunch bag. Lucy approaches and uses the bag as a sketch pad to draw a dress she saw, for Patty. Alone, CB bemoans his loser status, and finally removes the bag to discover that the LRH Girl never looked at him in the first place. Lucy sits at Schroeder’s piano and as he plays the Moonlight Sonata, dreams of marrying him someday, to his horror. (“Schroeder”) Lucy tries to break Linus of his blanket habit by stealing it. Patty teases Snoopy with a possible kiss. Linus discourses on the nature of happiness as Patty stares blankly at him. Lucy mentions to Schroeder that when they marry, they will need a good set of saucepans. Lucy rages at…well something, anything, and Linus points out to her that calm and patience will out. She screams at him. Snoopy has a dream that everyone loves him, wakens, and sings about how great his life is. (“Snoopy”) Charlie Brown again considers approaching The LRHG, and backs off in fear. Linus sings a love song to his blanket. (“My Blanket And Me”) Lucy enters and demands he change TV channels, and he gives up when she threatens to slug him. She then announces that she plans to be a queen. When Linus points out that one must be born into a royal family to be a queen, she first considers killing Linus, looks for loopholes, considers buying a queendom, and giving up, decides to devote her life to developing her natural beauty. Charlie Brown attempts to fly a kite, ever the optimist, but to no avail. (“The Kite”) Valentine’s Day arrives, and everyone gets a bunch of valentines except CB- even Snoopy. Depressed, he visits the local psychiatrist (Lucy), and sings of his woes (“The Doctor Is In”), receiving the helpful insight that CB is after all, himself, and losing five cents as her fee into the bargain. A big book report (“Book Report”) is due about Peter Rabbit, and all our human heroes stress out mightily with great comic results. Finally, alone, CB watches a lone leaf on a tree, as it hangs on for dear life, and takes comfort in its travails. As he exits the stage, the leaf promptly falls off the tree.

ACT TWO: Snoopy is discovered atop the dog house, only now he is the World War I flying Ace, hunting the infamous Red Baron. In his fantasy, Snoopy is ignominiously shot down, but he will live to fight another day. Patty insists Snoopy rise up for rabbit chasing, but he elects sleep instead. The whole group plays a big baseball game (“T.E.A.M”) which ends with their captain, Charlie Brown, losing his umpty-ump game in disgrace. Lucy does a survey and discovers that everyone considers her a “super crab.” She is not pleased. The group joins up again for a “Glee Club Rehearsal” under the skillful baton of Schroeder. They practice that profound masterwork of yesteryear, “Home On The Range,” while in reality (and in counterpoint) arguing about a ½ dozen things and angrily abandoning the rehearsal one by one. Various small skits go by, many with Snoopy indicating his desire to somehow improve his place in life. As CB watches in horror, Lucy “teaches” her brother about the world, getting everything utterly wrong, but insisting in her firm manner that she is right. (Little-Known Facts”) Snoopy sits atop his doghouse, but to his horror, no one comes to feed him. He agonizes until CB shows up with a bowl of food – and then, it’s a wild celebration of his favorite time of day. (“Suppertime”) The gang collect a final time to ponder on a curious light in the sky, and to share their unique ideas of what “Happiness” consists of. Lucy informs CB that he’s a good man, with a firm shake of his hand, and he’s left alone to ponder the end of what seems to him a very good day.

THE SONGS:

“You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown”, “Schroeder”, “Snoopy”, “My Blanket And Me”, “The Kite”, “The Doctor Is In”, “Book Report”, “T.E.A.M.”, “Glee Club Rehearsal”, “Little-Known Fact”, “Suppertime”, “Happiness”. (Added in 1999: “Beethoven Day” (sung by Schroeder), and “My Philosophy”, sung by an added character, Sally.)

Hits include “Happiness”.

MY OPINIONS:

You may, as always, ignore my opinions and rating.  Just don’t blame me when Snoopy bites you…or shoots down your plane.

What’s not to love! It’s delightful, genuinely funny, and even touching at the end. The songs are very catchy and, though apparently simple, they are skillfully constructed and effective. The show works beautifully for today’s audience, cursed as they are with short attention spans, as the show is built out of short blackout sketches sort of like Saturday Night Live – only these work.

That said, if you’re looking for a strong and linear narrative, a “story”, this is not the show for you. Characters do not “develop” in YAGM,CB, they simply exist as who they are. There are no “character arcs”, though Lucy shaking Charlie Brown’s hand at the end might be seen to be some sort of growth in her – if we weren’t pretty sure she was going to somehow pull even that football out from under him a minute after the show is over. And since just about everyone in the audience knows who these characters are, they are neither surprised nor disappointed by the fact that the characters do not grow or change. In fact, if you create character arcs, you’re going to really piss off your audience. There is no story being told, but rather, there is a series of blackout sketches featuring the beloved characters in much the manner as they appeared in our funny pages, in small bites. In a way, this makes the show a strong candidate for groups with limited acting experience, as well. The audience already knows the characters and will help (in their minds) fill in the gaps in the actor’s work. It is perhaps the “safest”, least controversial of all shows.  How great is it that it’s also delightful!

MY RATING: *** (An exceptional show, bordering on (if not) perfect, and one of my personal favorites.)

PRODUCTION CONCERNS AND IDEAS:

DIFFICULTY OF MUSIC:
This is one of, if not the easiest score to teach actors, of all the musicals covered in this book. The melodies are lovely, simple, and memorable. I’ve taught this score with success to kids pre-teen-aged several times. (The exception is the opening to “Book Report”, which in its entirety as a number is probably too hard for very young or inexperienced casts.) If your cast lacks musical experience, overall, this show should provide an excellent “introductory” experience with musicals.

That said, the cast does need to be able to sing reasonably well. The ranges for the roles are not very big, but the actors must be expressive and fairly facile vocally within those ranges. Lucy must have a rather LOUD voice, but must also be able to turn on some vocal faux-sweetness. Snoopy should be able to belt when singing parts of “Suppertime.” Charlie Brown must do some fair belting during “The Dr. Is In.” It helps if Linus’ voice is smooth and even “restful” when singing. And all together, the six actors must be able to produce a clang and bang for the opening number, and for “Baseball”, and “Book Report”.  You’re looking for sweet voices, pleasant (except Lucy…), decent ranges, polite belts, some high notes.

Likewise, the pianist should be skilled, but it doesn’t require great musicianship to play this score. If you use drums, any decent drummer can handle the chore.

DIFFICULTY OF DANCE, CHOREOGRAPHIC CONCERNS:
There isn’t tons of dance, here, but there is a fair amount of movement. The opening number allows the cast to march around, imitating a marching band, and doesn’t demand much. Linus must do a bit of a Fred Astaire thing, with his blanket as the substitute for Ginger Rogers, in “My Blanket And Me,” so he should have some skill as a dancer, ideally. Kite must be well-staged so that we “see” the imaginary kite. But outside of “Blanket And Me”, the only dancing called for might be “Suppertime,” Snoopy’s show-stopper in Act Two, requiring a pull-out-the stops vaudeville approach with his/her supper dish as his/her hat/prop. Both these numbers are solos, and these two actors should move well. The other four cast members really don’t need to be dancers.

A choreographer isn’t going to be overwhelmed with this show. The Director could work closely with the choreographer on the opening number, “Book Report,” “T.E.A.M.,” “Glee Club Rehearsal,” and “Little-Known Facts,” as these group numbers will need some movement, and will help justify the presence of a choreographer.

CASTING CONCERNS:
Let’s start with the fact that the actors do not need to (and really can’t) look like the cartoon characters that they represent. They do, however, need to project the right quality for each character.

Charlie Brown is plaintive, ever-hopeful, an average Joe. He’s a tenor, usually, or high lyric baritone with a pleasing voice and some belt. Linus is intellectual, yet confused by the world and easily threatened. (Hence the blanket.) His voice can be lyric baritone, and must be smooth and well modulated. Schroeder is intense, brooding, humorless, gifted. He generally sings ensemble, though with such a small cast, every voice will count. Probably should be a tenor or lyric baritone. You won’t need any real low voices for this show.

Lucy is self-involved, tough, critical, even brutal at times. But she sees herself as sweet, queenly, likeable. She’s an alto, with a very strong belt, but some sweetness available to her vocalise. (She is deluded.) Patty is not-too-bright, self-involved, a future cheerleader. Again, ensemble, I’d go soprano if possible, to balance vocal ranges for ensemble sections.

Snoopy is the most important piece of casting. The actor or actress (why not?) must have great energy and fearlessness. They must be willing to “overact” when playing a jungle beast or a WWI flying ace. Comic timing is an absolute must. Usually a lyric baritone or alto with some range.

SETS:
The show has only a single set, though you might want to use a backdrop or cyclorama and light it is colorful pastels that reflect the emotion of the moment. The set generally consists of blocks, like the kind kids play with, but large enough to sit or stand on. Usually the show uses 5-6 of these. One doubles as Schroeder’s piano, and should be shaped accordingly. Another is Lucy’s “Doctor’s Office”, with a sign that can swivel above it with her “5cents” sign. The most important is the one shaped like Snoopy’s dog house, though you do not need him to crawl inside it (he can crawl behind it), so it does not need to be hollowed out. It should have a faux doghouse roof he can lie on top of, and even stand on. All these blocks must be stable, strong, able to be stood on. The set pieces must be light enough, if possible, to be moved as needed. They are often painted in primary colors, a new color for each surface of the block. The idea is to communicate the playthings of children.

COSTUMES:
Your guide is the comic strip. One costume per character, and you well may need to manufacture them rather than buy them off the rack, if you’re working with a cast older than 10. At worst, though, you’re looking at six costumes, total, none of them particularly difficult to do. You can look at the animated versions of Charlie Brown to get a better idea of color and design for your costumes, as well. Not a difficult chore. But don’t think in terms of something like the Disney characters with the big rubber heads that walk around Disneyland. Just get the clothes right enough that we know who each character is. Charlie Brown’s famous stripe on his shirt is a must. Snoopy is often dressed in a pull-over white turtle neck and black pants. That’s okay, but you might have a better idea. Just don’t create a “dog” costume, because none of the other characters are going to look like their cartoon counterparts, and that will just set Snoopy apart as somehow wrong.

PROPS:
There are not a ton of props in the show, and most of them are simple. Who can’t find a dog food dish? A cane for Snoopy to dance with? Baseball mits? Snoopy will need his WWI Flying Ace’s goggles and scarf. Charlie Brown needs a large lunch bag, and depending on how literal you want to be (I don’t recommend it in this case, mime works better), a peanut butter sandwich. And there is Linus’ all-important baby blanket, powder blue! Really, one of the easiest shows to handle, for props.

LIGHTING:
Well, you’re going to have a lot of blackouts, around 40-50. The lighting person’s focus and timing, therefore, will need to be exceptional. The blackouts can’t drag, they have to go to black quickly with no ghosting or difficulty.

You’ll want to light the show well and with versatility. It will be important to focus the audience on small parts of the stage for various black out sketches, and while most of this lighting, including stage washes for big numbers, should be pretty bright and musical comedy, you may wish to provide some changes of mood. “My Blanket And Me” benefits from a follow spot, as does “Suppertime.” You might feel compelled to use smart lights, but in a small theater given the noise they make, I would not. You could use old-fashioned strip lights and a cyclorama to change the mood of each scene against the back wall, as was done in the original Off-Broadway production. Subtlety is going to largely be uncalled for with this show. Light everything fairly brightly and well. (One special effect in Act II that could be fun -Linus uses his blanket as a cape, approaches Lucy and Patty and pretends to be a vampire, scaring them. Lighting him from the floor up and creating ghoulish shadows would be cool. Or he could carry a flashlight…)

MAKE-UP:
Keep this very simple, straight theater make-up, nothing special. Don’t design “dog make-up” for Snoopy! It will just bring a lot of attention to the fact that he’s an actor playing a dog, so leave that alone. You have six actors. Make them look good. And remember, this isn’t “realism,” so on a larger or stage or in a larger theater, work to make their eyes and other features pop a bit. It’s musical comedy. But you do not need in any way to make them look “young.” No rouged cheeks or any such artificial “young” stuff. Again, this will simply bring lots of attention to the fact that your cast isn’t eight years old, and will fail miserably. The actors will create the characters, not the make-up. Your job here is fairly perfunctory.

KEY PERSONNEL (The ones you MUST get right.):
All six of the actors, Director/Choreographer, Pianist, Lighting.

MY THOUGHTS:
The show is presentational rather than representational. For this reason, you can (and generally we do) cast older actors, even adults, to play these precious 5-8 year-olds. I’m not sure, but I bet you could cast an all-senior group and it would still work.

The show constantly breaks the fourth wall, with characters speaking directly to the audience. Given this, I still would not move into the house for any action. In fact, if possible, I’d stage the show on a set proscenium stage, allowing the box-like proscenium to artificially recreate the cartoon box we originally saw these beloved characters in, in our newspaper. In fact, I’d consider accenting that effect somehow visually in the set, if possible.

Generally, I think the director’s work here should be transparent. Don’t do things to demonstrate your genius (I know you are one), or to pull attention to the mechanics of the performance. The audience is already in love with these characters, and they’ve come to spend the night with them. Stay out of the way. No one wants a third wheel to show up in the middle of a love affair.

Many productions of YAGM,CB add other popular characters from Peanuts, especially when done by schools with many students to cast. I’ve never seen this hurt the show as a show, and I have seen it fill up a larger stage and auditorium that needed the extra voices and faces up there. That said, that is a violation of copyright, and you might consider writing the company granting rights to see if they will allow the exception. (They will not.) Commonly added by schools and such who don’t care about copyright infringement are Sally (Charlie Brown’s little sister), Peppermint Patty (no, she isn’t the same character as Patty), Pigpen (great visual character to add), and many others too numerous to name here. Sally was added to the 1999 version, replacing Patty, and you may wish to look it over for that reason.)