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That perpetual loser, that hero of the underdog, that idol of the timid - yes, Charlie Brown - is back in Brooklyn.

Charlie, who first appeared in Charles Schulz’s "Peanuts" comic strip, already had fans nationwide when Clark Gesner wrote the book, music and lyrics for "You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown," but Gesner’s gentle irony, fine musical ear and enchanting humor and insight made the Peanuts crew come to life in a new and vibrant way.

As a tribute to Gesner, a long-time Brooklyn Heights resident and Gallery Players supporter, the Gallery Players have chosen to present Gesner’s original (and his preferred) work without the new arrangements and additional songs given to the 1999 Broadway revival. As a result, this production has the warm glow of simplicity and the clear ring of truth.

The play is directed by Matt Schicker and features Christopher Gleason as Charlie Brown, Jennifer Smiles as Lucy, Dax Valdes as Linus, Brian Ogilvie as Schroeder, Lauren Allison Spees as Patty and Nicholas Sattinger as Snoopy.

Although the cast works mostly as an ensemble, the actors so carefully and completely create their characters that each one stands out as an individual with his or her well-known ticks - Charlie’s hesitancy and forlorn trying to please; Lucy’s oblivious brattiness; Linus’ philosophical resignation and intellectualism; Snoopy’s ingratiating sycophancy.

Gleason stole this reviewer’s heart with his sweet smile. Valdes worked wonders with his blanket. Ogilvie made his toy piano feel grand. And Smiles - well, who couldn’t grin at her chutzpah?

Timothy J. Amrhein’s whimsical set, consisting, for the most part, of movable pieces and flats, executed with cartoon-like clarity and painted in bright, enthusiastic colors - Snoopy’s doghouse, a tree in a park, Lucy’s home - are both reminiscent of the comic strip and highly theatrical on their own. Amrhein has also designed under the theory that less means more, leaving plenty of room for Brian Mulay’s simple but sensational choreography.

"You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown" is really a musical revue powered by a series of vignettes. Thus we see Charlie and his friends tragically losing a baseball game; writing book reports (on Peter Rabbit) each in his or her own characteristic way; and at a glee club rehearsal that they one by one desert.

Charlie tries to fly a kite. Snoopy sings for his supper. Lucy teaches ridiculous facts: clouds make the wind, snow blows up, fire hydrants grow up from the ground.

But make no mistake, there’s great wisdom here - from Linus’ comment about his blankie, "It’s foolish, I know it, and I’ll outgrow it. But meanwhile it’s my blanket and me," to Gesner’s "Happiness," which can be whistling, tying your shoes or "walking hand in hand."

The overwhelming charm of Gesner’s work is not only that adults are playing children, but that children have the wisdom adults should - but often don’t - have.

Gesner, the son, grandson and nephew of Unitarian ministers, knew more than a little about the human heart. And it’s all out there on stage at the Gallery Players - in words, dance and song.


The Gallery Players production of "You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown" plays through Feb. 1, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 3 pm. Tickets are $15, $12 seniors and children under 12. The Gallery Players are located at 199 14th St., between Fourth and Fifth avenues in Park Slope. For reservations, call (718) 595-0547.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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