Since its off-Broadway premiere in 1967, the much-beloved comic strip revue “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” has enjoyed an unusual dichotomy in which the “Peanuts” gang is played by adults in professional productions and by kids and teens in amateur productions.
It has always been a wildly popular musical thanks to its tender songs (“Happiness,” “My Blanket and Me”), adorable sketches and minimal cast size and scenic requirements. During my senior year of high school, my friends and I got bored and threw together our own production on short notice and with no budget.
A few months ago, the nightclub Feinstein’s/54 Below presented a concert of the musical featuring child actors, and that in turn has inspired the York Theatre Company to revive the musical off-Broadway with a cast of kids.
The seven young performers in “Charlie Brown” have previously appeared in “Matilda,” “Kinky Boots,” “Finding Neverland,” “Elf” and “School of Rock,” which means they have more impressive resumes than most adult actors.
They are using the 1999 Broadway revival version, which adds Sally Brown as a character and two new songs including “My New Philosophy” (which made a star out of an unknown named Kristin Chenoweth).
The staging (directed by Michael Unger) isn’t much better or worse than any of the thousands of other amateur productions of “Charlie Brown.” The kids are all very talented but they have trouble handling the vocal arrangements and virtually all of the comedy and psychological insight has gotten lost.
That said, I was delighted to see so many kids in the audience of an off-Broadway show. Maybe one of them will turn to his or her parents and ask to see the next show at the same theater, and a lifelong theatergoer will be born.