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Christmas has come early in my house. Not only have I got a new computer to type this on, I’ve got no less than four new releases from Broadway Records to listen to. First up, on the day that Van Dean’s prolific label get no less than two Grammy nominations (for two albums I reviewed, Fiddler On The Roof, and my recording of the year, The Color Purple), is the new off Broadway Cast recording of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown.
This exciting new production is based on a concert that was presented at Feinstein's/54 Below by Van Dean of Broadway Records and Jennifer Ashley Tepper, and combines the simplicity of the original 1967 Off-Broadway version with additions from the 1999 Broadway revival, with the added bonus of starring young Broadway vets, aged 9-14: Joshua Colley (Les Misérables), Gregory Diaz (School of Rock), Aidan Gemme (Finding Neverland), Mavis Simpson-Ernst (Evita), Jeremy T. Villas (Kinky Boots), Graydon Peter Yosowitz (The Odyssey) and Tony honoree and Grammy nominee Milly Shapiro (Matilda).
The hit musical You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown with book, music and lyrics by Clark Gesner and additional material by Andrew Lippa and Michael Mayer is directed by York’s Associate Artistic Director Michael Unger, with music direction by Eric Svejcar and choreography by Jennifer Paulson-Lee. As the press release says, come spend a couple of days in the lives of Charlie Brown and his pint-sized philosopher friends-from bright, uncertain morning to starlit, hopeful evening-and all of the lonely brown-bag lunches, kite-flying failures, book reports, glee club rehearsals, and suppertimes in between. Audiences of all ages will learn that "Happiness is" the simple joys of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown.
This is a show I have a lot of affection for. It was the first show I was ever Music (or Musical as we say over in the UK) Director for, and one I even lit for a professional late-nite production. It’s a very episodic, sketch based show, featuring all of your favourite Peanuts characters, with some very worthwhile songs in it, but the wonderful Gesner. Andrew Lippa and Michael Mayer re-working the show, adding some nice tweets, but also some, in my opinion, unnecessary extra songs too. It’s still a very nice piece in what ever format it’s performed, and this recording was the first time I’ve heard it done with children. This I thought worked well to a point, but some of the songs are especially ‘range-y’ for young voices, and this showed at times.
That said, I really enjoyed this fresh look at the show. The performances by all of the cast were extremely proficient, but I must call out the two Charlie Browns on the recording, as worthy occupants of the role. They handle the not-easy-at-times songs very well, and have a nice tone to their delivery. I also enjoyed Mavis Simpson-Ernst’s portrayal of Lucy - someone to watch out for in future certainly. All of this, topped off with Broadway Records' usual smart packaging and great production values make this a great Christmas stocking filler.