Sierra Stages presents a musical about kids for grown-ups | TheUnion.com

Sierra Stages presents a musical about kids for grown-ups

Tom Durkin
Special to The Union

You can take your kids to see "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown," but, "it's really a show for adults who remember being children," said Director Ken Getz during a rehearsal break Tuesday evening.

While the kids are laughing at adults acting like kids, the adults will be laughing, too – but many will be reliving memories of the shyness, unrequited love, failures, humiliations and other childhood angsts that cartoonist Charles Schulz gently depicted in the nearly 18,000 "Peanuts" cartoon strips he penned for nearly 50 years.

At its peak, "Peanuts" comic strips appeared in 2,600 daily newspapers in 75 countries in 21 languages.

"Peanuts" was so popular that playwright Clark Gesner wrote the script, the music and the lyrics to "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown." Named after "Peanuts'" lovable, loser of a main character, the musical comedy debuted off-Broadway in 1967 and had a successful four-year run while simultaneously licensing nine touring companies around the country.

The play was remarkable – and successful – because all the Peanuts characters were adults dressed in informal street clothes, and even Snoopy the dog could sing and dance. It had no particular plot. It was a series of funny/poignant vignettes punctuated by lively musical production numbers.

There were several attempts to revive and "improve" the production on Broadway, but they failed, said Getz, who has been captivated by the play since he was 12.

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That's why he and Sierra Stages have brought back the original 1967 hit of "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" to the Off Center Stage in Grass Valley.

The show opened Thursday, and it was sold out in advance for yesterday's and tonight's performances, reported Producer Peter Mason.

Not to worry, the show runs Thursdays through Sundays (except this Sunday) until Oct. 12. Advance ticket purchases are advised.

From Off-Broadway to Off-Center

Of course, it's pretty easy to sell out a 73-seat "black box" theatre, especially when it's perfectly suited for an intimate, minimalist play like "Charlie Brown."

The simple set consists of various red and yellow "boxes" of assorted sizes, shapes and portability.

Led by Getz (who is also musical director), a five-piece band is crammed in a corner of the stage.

The six, casually dressed cast members have no costume changes and only a few props (some of them imaginary).

All the audience has to do is turn on their imaginations and suspend their disbelief for a fun, two-act play (with a 15-minute intermission).

Acting young

Now in its seventh award-winning season, Sierra Stages' production of "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" continues its tradition of seeding its productions with seasoned actors and promising newcomers.

The Charlie Brown ensemble is no different. Two-time Elly Award-winner Robert Rossman plays the philosophical Linus (the one with the blanket). At 60, Rossman is the oldest character playing the youngest part.

Isaias Acosta plays the hapless Charlie Brown. Acosta has performed in previous Sierra Stages productions, including "Avenue Q," "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and "Peter Pan," as well as acting in other local productions.

As the crabby Lucy, Kim Wellman gives Charlie Brown grief and psychiatric advice. Another veteran actor with too many credits to list, Wellman laughed, "Lucy kind of comes naturally to me."

Toon Vandervorst is almost typecast as the Beethoven-loving pianist Schroeder (Lucy's love interest). While this is only his second acting gig, Vandervorst is no stranger to the stage as a musician. Besides teaching voice and piano, the 44-year-old native of The Netherlands is the assistant musical director for the Sierra Master Chorale.

Lindsay Dunckel, Ph.D. (developmental psychology), plays the original Patty (not Peppermint Patty, who appeared in Schulz's later strips). This is Dunckel's debut with Sierra Stages. Although she performed in high school and college, the 48-year psychologist has only returned to the theatre recently, having performed in "Our Town" and "The 24-Hour Plays."

Like Dunckel, Tracie Nickle is returning to theatre after performing in her younger years. She debuted earlier this year in Sierra Stages' production of "Proof" and now she has the choice role of Snoopy, doing combat with the Red Baron and singing for her supper.

An award-winning tradition

The nonprofit Sierra Stages Community Theatre has won five Elly Awards and 51 (count 'em) nominations in its first six seasons. Ellys are awarded annually by the Sacramento Area Regional Theatre Alliance. The company is up for additional nominations this year, the winners of which will be announced at a special ceremony Sunday in Sacramento. Read Monday's edition of The Union for more details about this year's Elly winners.

Although "Charlie Brown" is the last full production of this season, Sierra Stages is offering two actors' workshops and is partnering with Miners Foundry Cultural Center to present three "Theater by the Book" readings Wednesday evening and later this year.

Tom Durkin is a freelance writer and photographer in Nevada City. He can be contacted at tdurkin@vfr.net.

Know & Go

WHO: Sierra Stages presents

WHAT: “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown”

WHERE: Off Center Stage, 315 Richardson St. Grass Valley (behind Center for the Arts)

WHEN: Through Oct. 12; 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays (except tomorrow)

TICKETS: Reserved seating $35 (adults & youth); general admission: $25 adults, $18 youths (17 & under); $15 stand-by for students with ID (25 & under).

530-346-3210 (no fee); BriarPatch Co-op (fee may apply); online http://www.sierrastages.org (service fee); at the door (if available).

INFO: 530-346-3210 or http://www.sierrastages.org