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‘Peanuts’ characters come to life in ThinkTank/freeFall musical

Bill DeYoung

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Cast and crew of "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" pose for a family portrait. Photo provided.

Nearly all of the professional theaters in the Tampa Bay area have a summertime song to sing. There are musicals now running, or coming soon, from American Stage, Jobsite, Tampa Repertory Theatre and Stageworks.

Not to be outdone is freeFall, on St. Petersburg’s west side. In collaboration with Tampa’s ThinkTank Theatre, freeFall will debut You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown June 7.

The circa 1967 musical is based on cartoonist Charles M. Schulz’ beloved Peanuts comic strip characters, acted out in a series of vignettes and songs. One of the show’s creators, Clark Gesner, explained its appeal: “None of the cast is actually six years old. And they don’t really look like the Peanuts cartoon characters.

“But this doesn’t seem to make that much difference once we are into the play, because what they are saying to each other is with the openness of that early childhood time, and the obvious fact is that they are all really quite fond of each other.”

ThinkTank founder (and Charlie Brown director) Georgia Mallory Guy says the show is very true to Schulz’ original vision for Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy, Snoopy and the rest. “There were layers to the writing,” Guy exclaims. “There was comedy, and chuckles, but when you examined it a little bit further, there was real truth. I think Schulz chose to use children because children speak so frankly.”

In the musical, she adds, “There’s a lot of high energy, there’s a lot of fun songs … and then there’s the truthfulness in the script – keep the energy, keep the fun but be true to the comics. And find those moments when the woes might be a little low, and how it’s approached with humor.”

ThinkTank casts include longtime, professional adult actors blended with younger performers – college and high school age – with stage experience.

“Our apprentice company allows Tampa Bay high schoolers who have this ambition of learning more about what professional theater is to actually have that hands-on experience,” says Guy. “All of the kids in our YAE (Young Adult Ensemble) program are involved in educational theater in some component, with their schools or with programs like Patel Conservatory and FAOPA (Florida Academy of Performing Arts). Typically, they are the cream of the crop of their programs, and what they yearn for is the next level. What it feels like to work with professionals.

“So we give them that. They come into the room, they are treated just like the professionals. They are not treated like students.”

Irony, of course, will find a way into every situation. Actor Cameron Kubly (Charlie Brown), who recently graduated from Stetson College of Law, is a graduate of the performing arts program at Tampa’s Blake High School. Several members of this cast are current or former Blake students.

The seed for You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown was planted last year, when ThinkTank’s summer cabaret, at freeFall, became a big success. Together, company administrators went looking for a more involved collaboration.

It was freeFall musical director Michael Raabe who chose You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown from Guy’s short list of plays to consider.

ThinkTank had just done She Kills Monsters and The Crucible, aimed at the slightly older end of the company’s demographic. And freeFall was eager to include something family-oriented in its own season. “We thought,” explains Guy, “this would meet both of those benchmarks.”

In theater, she adds, it’s important to reflect your audience. “And if I have a company that’s geared towards ages 14 to 19, I need to put 14 to 19 year olds onstage. It’s important for them to see themselves onstage. We’re technically growing young people to be the next generation of theater-goers. And supporters and donors.”

The ThinkTank/freeFall production is recommended for ages 5 through young at heart. There’s a “sensory performance” matinee June 8, during which the lights are left on for those young people who might have difficulty with the full theatricality of the play.

You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, Guy insists, is “a great show for first time theater-goers, no matter their age. Whether you bring your kids, or somebody who’s like ‘I’ve never been to the theater.’

“More experienced theater-goers will find the poignancy that’s there. We’re going for a sort of classic feel, almost like you’re looking at the two-dimensional comic strip. Like you’re reading it in the paper. That’s what we’re bringing.”

Find show schedule and tickets here.

RELATED: Arts Alive! podcast: Georgia Mallory Guy, ThinkTank Theatre

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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