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Theater Review: “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” at Olney Theatre

“Peanuts” characters get a charming rendition in this good-natured musical.

Paul Wyatt (Linus), Jaimie Kelton (Sally), Vishal Vaidya (Schroeder), Zack Colonna (Charlie Brown), Janine Sunday (Lucy), and James Gardiner (Snoopy) in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. Photograph by Weldon Brown.

Poor Charlie Brown. Even in his own musical, he gets upstaged by his little sister.

It’s Sally who steals the spotlight in Olney Theatre’s production of the good-natured musical You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. The sassy, petite Jaimie Kelton beguiles her teacher into upping the C-grade on her art project, and brashly leads her dog Snoopy on an epic rabbit-chasing adventure straight out of an action movie. She’s a force, and her beguiling style and bright vocals are put to good use in “My New Philosophy,” Sally’s disarming solo number.

It’s almost appropriate that Charlie Brown (Zack Colonna) is overshadowed in the Olney musical. Charles Schulz’s character, while pleasant, is a pretty gloomy guy. Just as in the comic strips, the emo antihero is duped, ignored, or blatantly teased by the other children around him. The shenanigans give Charlie Brown, usually a light confection of a show, its most serious moments, garnering sympathy and pity for the mopey Charlie. Colonna for his part is an affable schmuck, though his singing occasionally veers off pitch.

The show plays out as a collection of vignettes and musical numbers featuring the familiar Schulz characters. For those with any Peanuts nostalgia, the classic references are there, including the Little Red-Haired Girl Charlie pines for, and the rivalry between Snoopy (understudy Patrick Prebula during Sunday’s matinee) and the Red Baron. Clark Gesner’s songs are cheery and frothy, if sometimes a little slight, but the group numbers are performed with balance and spunk by the six-member cast. Janine Sunday gives a polished, confident turn as the brassy Lucy, and Vishal Vaidya brings the house down with “Beethoven Day,” Schroeder’s gospel-inspired ode to his favorite composer.

Director and choreographer Stephen Nachamie has brought an appropriately cartoonish flair to the production. Colorful backdrops have a comic strip feel, and props are large and exaggerated. The performers burst around the stage in loose, improvisational choreography. The show missteps, though, when it tries to insert pop culture relevancy into the production—nods to pop songs such as “Moves Like Jagger” and Beyoncé’s inescapable “Single Ladies” choreography already feel dated.

The show tries hard to appeal to both children and adults, and to some degree it does—Linus’s philosophical musings will draw chuckles from the older members of the audience, while the show’s goofy characters and physical comedy should prove a hit among kids. But the broad acting and slim storyline of Charlie Brown will test the patience of those who aren’t devotees of Peanuts, and much of the show’s dialogue may go over the heads of the younger audience members. But anyone should be able to appreciate the enthusiastic and energetic ensemble of performers Olney has assembled.

You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown runs through March 18 at Olney Theatre Center. Tickets ($44 to $54) are available through Olney’s website.