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Close-Knit Cast Mirrors 'Peanuts' Gang

Thomas Wootton High School performs “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” Dec. 1, 2 and 3.

Watching the cast of “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown” rehearse their curtain-call in an empty auditorium at Thomas Wootton High School, it isn’t hard to imagine the energy that would fill the house on a good night.

Following their bows, the seven actors launch into a funky reprise of the final song. It isn’t quite impromptu, but it’s far from scripted. Dropping character and trying a few dance moves not in the musical theater playbook, it’s obvious that the actors are having fun.

“We legitimately are having fun,” said senior Sarah Ritwo, who plays Peppermint Patty in the musical based on Charles Schultz’s “Peanuts” comics, Dec. 1, 2 and 3 at the school. “There’s a sense of community within the show. … We just gelled so well.”

“It’s a cast of seven, they’re all brunettes and I like them all,” said senior Jared Allen, who plays Linus.

As fast friends offstage, the cast of mostly juniors and seniors has had little trouble taking on the role of a slightly younger group of friends, the “Peanuts” gang.

Sophomore Keith Schwartz plays Charlie Brown, joined by senior Dana Harlan as his sister Sally (“She comes from a dynasty, a theater dynasty,” Ritwo quipped), junior Meghan Keane as Lucy, senior Brett Fischer as Snoopy and senior Matt Mooney as Schroeder.

“Last year was the first year we did a really small musical,” said director Carla Ingram, and “Charlie Brown” is the smallest cast yet. “The small musical gives them a chance to really shine.”

Though the role of Charlie Brown is the ostensible lead, the musical is really an ensemble piece, actors said. Every character has a solo song and several big scenes. And every character at some point interacts with every other.

The musical gives audiences a chance to revel in those relationships — Lucy’s crush on Schroeder, Charlie and Snoopy’s knowing friendship, Sally’s turn as the bratty little sister who is somehow eminently likeable.

Watching them unfold, one never quite pinpoints the premise that makes the “Peanuts” world so magical: the fact that it is completely self-contained, that except for the teacher whose lines are gibberish, there are no adults.

“The show is just a day in the life of Charlie Brown,” Allen said. “It’s just the everyday everythings of a 5-year-old.”

But don’t sell the 5-year-olds short.

“Not only are we being 5-year-olds, but we’re being 5-year-olds that think like adults,” Ritwo said.

Take Allen’s character, the famously blanket-toting Linus.

“He’s a kid and he’s the baby brother, so he definitely plays that role … but he’s definitely the most mature and he sometimes has to repress his maturity,” Allen said. “Every character is complex. I’m a baby but I’m mature. Schroeder is interested but he couldn’t care less. … Everyone in the audience can find a character they relate to.”

The musical is not only appropriate for all ages, but is rare in having a nostalgic quality for both parents and children. Schultz’s comic strip appeared daily for almost 50 years and even many younger children will recall the animated “Peanuts” specials of later years.

Ingram said that she tried to give the set, costumes and staging the flavor of the animated specials, while using collections of the comics for guidance.

“Hopefully when you come it’ll feel like you’re in one of the Charlie Brown movies,” she said.

No one wants to toy too much with the “Peanuts” characters, but the actors have worked to add their own imprints. They spent weeks building their character traits before taking to the stage to work on singing and choreography.

In rehearsal, Ingram said that the actors really share the directing duties, suggesting ideas for each scene.

“I just give basic guidelines,” she said. “We work as a group to see if it’s working or not.”

Ingram also added the Peppermint Patty character, who appears in the comics but was not written into the musical.

And the jokes generally play to children but often have layers that adults will appreciate too, Allen said.

“It’s definitely what people can relate to. It goes for all ages. The kids love the story and all the adults grew up on the ‘Peanuts’ comics,” he said.

“I can’t think of anybody who wouldn’t want to come,” said Ritwo. “Who doesn’t love ‘Peanuts’ and Charlie Brown?”