What a treat it is to spend an evening with Charlie Brown and his entourage at the Sierra Madre Memorial Park amphitheater! You’ll relive many of the iconic moments of the familiar old comic strip — Charlie agonizing over whether the little red-haired girl will look at him, Schroeder soulfully playing his piano, Snoopy flying his Sopwith Camel as he goes after the Red Baron.
With the zesty opening chorus of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” filling the night air, the actors have an energetic evening before them — running, jumping and cavorting as they do. At times, they spend a few moments with a familiar vignette; at other times there’s a bit of a snippet that carries the plot, such as it is. Their costumes are age-appropriate for the kids they play.
The starring role of Charlie Brown, if you can call it that, is played by Hamilton Davis Weaver. But in this musical, all players seem to shine equally. Mary Zastrow as Lucy is making her debut at the Sierra Madre Playhouse, as is Marcha Kia as Sally. Melvin Biteng as Linus is happy to return after three years. Carrying single-handedly his beloved piano onstage as Schroeder is Luke Sweeney. And Alexander Mashikian plays the lovable tail-wagging Snoopy upon whose tummy the little yellow bird Woodstock landed for a cameo appearance.
While the actors are established adult professionals, for “Charlie” they appear to be kids in their age-appropriate clothing. They act like kids, too, with all the bragging, belittling and bravado common in childhood days — as well as the loyal friendships.
The vibrant stage stretches across the park’s band shell. Props are spare — a dog house, a bed, a psychiatrist’s booth. The background is brightly painted with simple cartoon-style graphics.
There’s a special ambience to attending an outdoor theater and feeling the dusk slowly fade into nighttime. The friendly chatter among your neighbors hushes as everyone awaits the show. As on the evening we attended, a blanket was welcome when the air cooled, and a soft breeze came up.
To mount such a musical for the reopening of theater in the village truly took a village. The City of Sierra Madre teamed up with the staff of the Playhouse to present the show. Christian Lebano directed the show. Sean Paxton was music director, and Palmer Davis was choreographer. More than 50 people worked as crew, technicians, and volunteers.
“You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” has won such praise that its run has been extended through Sunday, Sept. 12. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and the fun begins at 7 p.m.
Current COVID pandemic protocols are strictly observed. Seating is in socially distanced circles for groups of two, four, and six. Masks are to be worn except while eating or drinking. You may bring your own picnic suppers, if desired. Bring your own blankets or chairs for lawn seating and chair seating. Some lawn chairs may be rented for $5.
For tickets or detailed information, go to sierramadrepayhouse.org or call (626) 355-4318.