Charlie Brown and his friends will be making their grand debut at the Park Performing Arts Center, 560 32nd St., the weekend of May 20 at 8 p.m. in "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown."
"This is the fifth time I've done this show, and it's great," said Alice Failla, 53, who plays Lucy. "No matter what age you are, it's a funny show and it seems to work."
Created by Charles Shultz, Charlie Brown and his friends have entertained a multitude of fans for decades since their birth in October of 1950. Since that time, the comic strip grew into a national sensation, producing merchandise, movies, and of course a musical stage rendition that follows the Peanuts characters.
"You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" first appeared in 1967 as an off-Broadway musical starring Gary Burghoff, who went on to play Radar on the TV show M*A*S*H. Taking the role of Charlie Brown as well as assistant director for the Park Players' presentation will be Woodrow Wilson School drama teacher Joseph D. Conklin.
"It's great to revert back to childhood," said Conklin, 57. "It's a time to sit back and forget about everything, and look at things through the eyes of a child."
According to Conklin, who'd been with the Park Players since their inception 23 years ago, one of the reasons they decided to produce this play came upon visiting the set of another theater group. They fell in love with the set and decided to make the Peanuts musical their last play of the season.
"Everyone just fell into their roles," said Conklin.
Bring life to the Peanuts
"It's a really great kid's show," said Patrick Noble, 61, stage manager. "We did Nunsense at the beginning of the season, and we just finished Man of La Mancha, which is heavier, so we wanted to do a lighthearted student show."
Another reason for wanting to produce the play was the fact that it was very inclusive. It's geared toward the older generation, but still allows the younger generation to relate to it. The cast members and production team themselves range from 8 to 61 years old, and there's a tight sense of camaraderie among them.
"We try to do plays that involve different age groups," said Debbie Guarini, stage manager.
"We're a family, and like any family, people butt heads, and there are days when not everybody agrees," said Evelyn Rue, 40, director and choreographer. "But we're still a family."
Many of the kids who are involved with the production are students of the members and have been involved with previous productions done by the Park Players.
There is also a sense of mentoring on the part of the older members with the kids, who have impressive credentials of their own.
"This is my fifth production with them [Park Players]," said Allison Strong, 13, who is one of Conklin's students at Woodrow Wilson and has been a part of the Park Players since she was 10. "I'm used to singing opera, but this works, too. I think it's the most different from anything I've ever done, and it's a lot of fun."
Allison has had professional vocal training as well, and has been a member of the Metropolitan Opera Children's Chorus.
"I was in their last show and I asked my drama teacher, Mr. Conklin, if I could be in this one," said Michelle Bermudez, 13, who plays Peppermint Patty. "Peppermint Patty wasn't in the original and they added that part for me, so I'm very grateful to be in the play."
Peppermint Patty wasn't the only addition the Park Players made to the musical. They also included what they refer to as the Woodstockers. The little elementary school girls playing these parts will be joining Snoopy and Woodstock for one of the musical numbers, and the entire cast for another number.
"I get to be one-on-one with all my favorite friends that I have worked with for years," said John Fiorenza, 52, who plays Linus. "I like working with the kids too, there're a lot of professionals here."
Rehearsals have been going on four nights a week in preparation for the show's opening. Many members of the production staff, as well as some cast members, have multiple jobs to make the show run. Failla is musical director in addition to playing Lucy.
"The people here like to do theater, and they like it a lot," said Jay Johnson, 48, who plays the infamous Snoopy.
A little history
The Park Players produce about three to four shows a season, starting in November. The members range from all ages and backgrounds with one common goal, which is to bring quality and affordable theater arts to the community. Originally started up by a group of teachers, the Park Players have utilized the Park PAC as a great venue for productions including kids and anyone in the community with a desire to participate. Now with about 12 board members and a loyal group of constantly returning actors, the Park Players have enjoyed continued success and recognition by theater groups.
"You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" will run from May 20 to 22 at 8 p.m., and on May 23 at 3 p.m. Tickets will be $20 for adults, and $16 for students and seniors. Special group rates are also available.
"It's going to be a great play," said Allison. "I think everybody's inner child sort of shines through."