Churchill Works for ‘Peanuts’

Churchill Works for ‘Peanuts’

Churchill Theater

Rather than pine for the bygone days of youth, Rami Ayyub and Andi Voigtmann auditioned for Churchill’s production of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.”

In this performance, Ayyub said, “We get to be kids.”

And not just any kids — they’re playing the roles of the “Peanuts” characters, beloved by generations of readers and viewers. Starring junior Michael Butvinik as Charlie Brown, Churchill performs the musical comedy “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” on Friday, Sept. 30 and Saturday, Oct. 1. The show originally ran in the 1960s, and received two Tony Awards for a Broadway revival in 1999; Churchill’s performers love the way it captures the “Peanuts” view of childhood.

“It’s fun to go back in time to when we were children,” said Voigtmann, a junior who watched plenty of “Peanuts” specials when she was younger. “That’s why this show is so awesome — all those memories that flash back in your head when you watch the scenes.”

Few people have lived in a European shtetl ("Fiddler on the Roof") or a turn-of-the-century ranch ("Oklahoma!"), but everyone has been a child. And that means everyone can relate to "Charlie Brown," cast members said.

"It's something that I think everyone can connect with," Butvinik said. He certainly can.

"I like to think that I take things in stride the way that Charlie Brown does," he said. "Charlie Brown is the constant optimist. You can knock him down as many times as you like … but he still comes right back and he still has a smile. ... It's really fun to play someone like that.

MOST OF THE “Peanuts” scenarios made familiar by Charles M. Schulz’ comic strip are incorporated in the musical: Charlie Brown’s baseball futility and hopeless crush on “the red-headed girl,” Schroeder’s mad passion for Beethoven's music, Lucy’s unlicensed psychiatric practice, and Linus’s attachment to his security blanket are but a few.

“I’ve grown to love it so much, because it’s so cute,” said junior Ben Hoffman, who plays Schroeder. “There’s not necessarily a plot. … It caters to people with a short attention span.”

Christel Richard, playing Sally, agrees. “It’s a good thing for little kids, because you don’t have to constantly know what’s going on.”

Like the comic it's based upon, “Charlie Brown” is on one level easily approached by young children, with undercurrents that adults will appreciate.

MUSICAL NUMBERS include “Little-Known Facts,” questionable trivia delivered by Lucy with absolute certainty; and “Beethoven Day,” Schroeder’s attempt to make the composer’s birthday a national holiday.

Rami Ayyub’s favorite song is “Suppertime.” “It’s one of the more dance-y songs,” Ayyub said.

All the choreography in Churchill’s production is the work of students Jeff Thurm and Talia Gottlieb. “They’re in shows a lot, so they understand what you’re going through,” said sophomore Jaclyn Gurwitz. “They were so helpful, and they made it fun for us.”

Thurm and Gottlieb had the challenge of choreographing something on a higher level than the Deadhead-meets-“Riverdance” style of dancing the “Peanuts” characters did on the TV specials.

“CHARLIE BROWN” is an extra fall production for Churchill this year. The school held auditions last spring and the cast began rehearsing the first day of school. Churchill will perform “West Side Story” in November.

"I think we just hit the ground running," Butvink said.

Butvink found a copy of the "Charlie Brown" script on the Internet over the summer and also read an anthology of all of the "Peanuts" comic strips ever published. Many of the cast members said they listened to CDs of the Broadway performances.

"Just reading the script, not even seeing it, I was laughing the whole time," Butvinik said. And reading the anthology gave Butvinik a better appreciation for Schultz, who died in 2000 after drawing the comic for 50 years.

"If you had this comic strip and you took out one character it wouldn’t be the same ," Butvinik said. "I think that had he not passed away we would still be reading [new ones] every Sunday."

Freshmen Evan Vogel (Rerun) and Christel Richard (Sally) auditioned last year as middle-schoolers. Actors listened to the play’s tunes over the summer, and held weekend rehearsals to prepare for showtime this weekend.

Taya Gelman, who plays Lucy, has some advice that won’t cost a nickel. “You’ll probably fall on the floor laughing,” she said.