Weston’s ‘Charlie Brown’ delivers ‘happy vibe’ kids love Free Young Company performances through July 9

Our theater reviewers from right, Bob Behr with his 8 1/2 year old granddaughter Cleo and 4-year-old grandson Felix at the Walker Farm performance of ‘You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.’

By Bob Behr, with help from Cleo and Felix
©2023 Telegraph Publishing LLC

What’s the recipe for a successful musical play for children? Cleo, my 8½-year-old granddaughter swears by the following ingredients: “lots of action, funny songs, dancing and some sad parts. But mostly a happy vibe.”

Me: “So, Cleo, did You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown deliver?”

Cleo: “Well, Charlie Brown had all the things on my list. It was sad sometimes but mainly the show was happy.”

Me: “And does that mean you liked it?”

Cleo: “Yes. A lot!”

Every year, Weston Theater Company sponsors the Young Company, a summer-long residency for college-aged performers. The Young Company is a talent incubator. Experienced professionals, like Charlie Brown director Frances Limoncelli, provide encouragement and practical training. Since the program’s inception, dozens of young people have gone on to successful careers.

And so, last week Cleo, her 4-year-old brother Felix, my wife (their grandmother) and I found ourselves on the lawn outside Walker Farm in Weston. We were lucky to experience the shining talent of the 2023 Young Company.

Some company members labored offstage and others – namely Ana Laura Santana, Aidan Curley, Ellen McGihon, Nate Walsh, Maya L’Abbe and Daniel Jimenez – stood before us and transformed into Snoopy, Charlie, Lucy, Schroeder, Sally and Linus. An audience of all ages, including a few grown-ups who attend without children, sat on lawn chairs and blankets, often smiling and laughing and showing looks of empathy for Charlie Brown’s predicaments.

Cleo’s assessment of the performers? “Their voices sounded amazing and their dance moves were totally on key. It looked like they practiced a lot!”

You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown is structured as a series of vignettes – touching, silly, revelatory moments in the lives of Charlie Brown and his friends – and, just as important, opportunities for the characters to belt out autobiographical songs. We first meet Charlie Brown on a bench outside his school at lunch time – “the worst time of day,” says Charlie Brown, who has no one to eat with. Later, he and his sister Sally struggle to fly a kite, Snoopy serenades from the roof of his doghouse, and Linus sings of his love for his blankie.

Snoopy fights the Red Baron in this scene from ‘You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.’ Photo copyright Weston Theater.

Lucy is an instigator and a mover-and-shaker, often with mixed results. While an oblivious Schroeder plays Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata on the piano, Lucy proposes to him – unsuccessfully.

Something about Lucy and Schroeder’s pas de deux resonated with my grandchildren. Cleo: “It was really, really funny. Schroeder was, like, OK I don’t really want to marry you.” Felix, excited, loudly interrupting: “And then she got upside down on top of the piano and put her face near his, and tried to get him to kiss!”

In a re-creation of the iconic Charles Schulz cartoon, Lucy sets up a psychiatrist’s office that looks alarmingly like a lemonade stand. Charlie Brown submits to Lucy’s double-edged advice, retaining only the positive stuff.

Charlie Brown: “Gosh, Lucy, you know something, I’m beginning to feel better already. You’re a true friend, Lucy, a true friend.”

Lucy: “That’ll be 5 cents, please.”

Lucy’s reply set off a flood of questions for Cleo, which became subject matter for a kitchen-table discussion later on in our home. Was Lucy really a true friend to Charlie Brown? Or was she just in it for the money?

Charlie Brown is surrounded by his ‘Peanuts’ pals. Photo copyright by Weston Theater.

Charlie Brown and friends lose a critical baseball game and this too struck a chord with Cleo: “Yes, I played on a softball team this year and when I batted sometimes it turned out bad, kind of like Charlie Brown’s team. We only won one game. I can relate!”

To Cleo’s list of ingredients for a successful children’s show, I will add only one more requirement: spark.

Did You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown light a spark in its audience of kids and adults? It sure worked for me. When the show was over, I felt happy and more connected to other people. I know it worked for Cleo and Felix. Charlie Brown provoked questions and ideas in them.

Cleo said she appreciated that the show had a message encouraging kids to be more kind. And, to be more brave.

And what about 4-year-old Felix? He declared he’d like to take Charlie Brown and Lucy and Snoopy home with him. Because they’d be fun to play with.

NOTE: If you’re interested in attending one of the remaining performances of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, here’s what you need to know. There have been several performances in Weston and in other towns. But there’s more to come. There will be shows this week at Walker Farm in Weston at 1 p.m. on Tuesday, July 4, Saturday, July 8, and Sunday, July 9. The company also travels to Putney on Thursday, July 6 and Grafton on Friday, July 7. All shows are outdoors and are BYOS – Bring-Your-Own-Seating. For more information and to reserve free tickets, click here.

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About the Author: Andover resident Bob Behr is a retired English teacher and non-profit fundraiser. He has written about theater, food and local culture for community newspapers in Philadelphia and Vermont.

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