Getting to go back in time and reconnect with his childhood was one of the perks of playing the lead role in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” says actor Stephen Crandall.
Crandall is a few years removed from the lovable loser’s age — he’s 28 — but “it’s fun for actors to play roles that allow us to be a child again.”
Directed by Glenn Casale, “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” opens today in Judy Bayley Theatre at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
It’s the closing production of the Nevada Conservatory Theatre season.
Crandall grew up reading the “Peanuts” comic strip and watched all the TV specials, but had never seen all of the stage musical, just a few vignettes over the years.
“The show sounded like a lot of fun,” Crandall says. “It’s a chance to do something lighthearted, with good messages.”
Using the 1999, revised version of the original 1967 musical, the production covers a day in the life of Charlie Brown and his friends: Charlie Brown pining after the little redheaded girl; Lucy and Schroeder at the piano; Linus and his blanket; Charlie Brown battling a kite; Lucy’s 5-cent psychiatry booth; and Snoopy taking on famed World War I ace, the Red Baron.
The revised show added two new songs (“My New Philosophy” and “Beethoven Day”), dropped Peppermint Patty but added a new character in Sally, Charlie Brown’s sister, and features new vignettes by the comic strip creator, the late Charles Schulz.
Brandon Burk plays Linus, Zonya Johnson is Lucy, Arthur Ross plays Schroeder, Tee Jay Jones is Snoopy and Phoenix Toliver plays Sally.
Clark Gesner wrote the book, music and lyrics, Michael Mayer added dialogue and Andrew Lippa provided additional music and lyrics.
In approaching the character, Casale advised Crandall to “think about the fact that Charlie Brown is forever an optimist,” the actor says. “He’s always hoping for the best, but all his hopes are dashed, yet he never stops trying. I had to work on trying to find the balance between hopeful and having things fall apart, the frustration.”
Casale, who previously directed the musical in 2000 at the California Musical Theatre in Sacramento, says he’s going for the flat look of a cartoon, with the help of set designer Carla Siller, costumer Cynthia Overton and lighting designer Hannah Boigon.
“This show is so much more difficult to do than people think it is,” Casale says. “This version is more of a Broadway show, the music is more difficult and complex.”
The director has called on Christophe Lash for musical direction of the production’s seven-piece orchestra, and Bernie Blanks as choreographer.
“It takes us back in time,” Casale says. “But it becomes very adult in context. (Charles M.) Schulz’s themes and ideas are adult.”
The show takes place on a backyard set because “as children, everything takes place in there. I told the cast it takes place in the days when the backyard was our world.”
Following Thursday’s performance, a discussion about “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown,” with the actors and members of the production staff, will be moderated by Dave McGinnis.
For $60, families can purchase the Charlie Brown Family Package that includes tickets for two adults and two children.what: “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown”
when: 8 p.m. today-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday (and April 26-29, May 3-6)
where: Judy Bayley Theatre, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, 4505 S. Maryland Parkway
tickets: $20-$25 (895-2787)