Sing a song of Peanuts

THE BROADWAY musical You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, first staged in 1967, brings to life the beloved characters from the Peanuts comic strip series created in 1950 by Charles M. Schulz, along with catchy musical numbers and colourful costumes.

The musical, with music and lyrics by Clark Gesner, has won multiple awards, among them the coveted Grammy, Tony and Drama Desk awards for both its Broadway and Off Broadway productions.

Malaysians will now get the chance to catch the local production of this musical in Kuala Lumpur by local theatre company Sifu Productions, from tomorrow night at 8.30pm at Theatre @ DPAC (Damansara Performing Arts Centre). The show will run till the following Sunday.

The Malaysian premiere of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown features an all-local cast comprising popular musical theatre performers such as Joel Wong (as Charlie Brown), Benjamin Lin (Snoopy), Tria Aziz (Sally), Safia Hanifah (Lucy), Ivan Chan Atienza (Linus), and Izen Kong (Schroeder).

They will be supported by an experienced theatre team headed by award-winning director Freddy Tan.

The musical follows Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang as they ponder and explore the true meaning of being happy, and how to be 'a good man' in their own adorable ways.

Recently, theSun spoke to director Tan and Atienza, who plays the security blanket-loving, piano-playing Linus.

Asked if Peanuts comic strip and cartoon fans would want to watch real actors instead of the cute, animated characters, Tan said: "Yes, I believe so. Because Charlie Brown and Snoopy have been such a big brand for a long time.

"The fans who grew up with them will be curious. [The musical] is already an established hit on Broadway."

Though the musical initially began its run in the late 1960s, the version that will be staged here is the 1990s revival version.

"Even for an audience [unfamiliar] with Peanuts, they will enjoy it because of the dynamic relationship between the characters in the musical," said Tan.

He added that the show is perfect for the whole family and is something he feels many Malaysians do not get to see often in our local theatre scene.

"I believe the script will appeal to both children and adults in various ways."

Casting was important as each character is so iconic.

"When we did the casting, we had to look at two things," Tan said. "Initially, we had to look at the technical part – like which actor can both sing and dance.

"If I cast someone who can act but can't sing or dance, or vice versa, you can imagine the problem we would have.

"Once I scrolled though the technical part and found the actors who could do all these things, I would look at the second part – the personalities.

"I would see if [their] characteristics [would] suit the role, then I would cast them."

However, Atienza did not directly audition for his role as Linus, as he was already a familiar face, having starred in numerous Sifu productions before.

Tan said he could already see that Atienza had the characteristics to play the youngest member of the Peanuts group, who is often not taken seriously.

The actor, who confessed he only became a fan of the comic strip after doing research for the role, said: "What I love about Peanuts is that it features characters who are children, but they talk about serious subjects and adult themes.

"What they talk about is very interesting [and] adults can relate to it as well. What I love is the fact they are dealing with heavy subjects, but gift-wrapping them in a very cute way."

Asked to describe Linus, Atienza said: "In a certain way, he is a kid, but he is also more mature than Charlie Brown because he knows a lot of stuff."

Linus, as Atienza pointed out, is also the most compassionate.

Tan concurred: "I think Linus is the most interesting because he is secretly the smartest of them all."

However, his dependence on his trademark security blanket gives off the impression that he is the weakest.

Each character has a strong personality, although Lucy seems to like to dominate all of them, especially the long-suffering Charlie whom she constantly picks on.

It is that aspect of their relationship that Tan likes, because as children, they will fight one minute and be friends the next.

He also likes the fact that some of these children would play at being adults, such as when Lucy opens her own 'psychiatric practice'.

Tan said when they obtained the rights to stage the musical, there were certain terms and conditions attached, as the late Shultz's estate is very particular about depicting the characters he created.

"There was a [rule] that said you cannot change the text and source material, but there was also a clause that allowed for localisation," said Tan.

"We did not do that because personally, I felt it was weird to have Snoopy speak with a Malaysian accent."
For showtimes and more, visit the DPAC website.