Chapter 12. Charlie Brown
Yes, we should probably have had a huge Genesis-style party and gone out with a bang there and then. After we were unable to stage 'War of the Worlds', several more people drifted away, leaving just a core of a about a dozen members left. However, we were all such close friends we didn't quite want to relinquish the group just yet, it seemed, and so we pressed on - “like they do at weddings,” as Amanda's mother would have said! We had been offered yet another slot at The Exchange Summer Festival for 1981 (having missed a year in 1980) and, rather than let another chance slip by, we decided to take it up, even though we didn't know what show we would do.
Once again, I can't remember who suggested 'You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown!' It may have been Chris Hawley, for he was a fanatic admirer of the Schulz cartoons and frequently quoted from them – in fact, Snoopy the Dog seemed to be Chris H's alter ego, so once it was decided that this is what we were going to do, he of course was immediately cast.
It was not a typical show for Genesis at all, being quite a conventional piece of musical theatre in the Broadway tradition, albeit with the unusual novelty of having adults represent the children in the comic strip. This meant that, given the style of music in the show, we wouldn't be needing our usual band, whose members Chris D had built up over the preceding years. (The 'Stag' recordings, therefore, in 1980 were the last occasion that they were involved in a Genesis event, although a small number would return two years later for 'Shakespeare's Greatest Hit'). However, Colin Touchin*, who had been a part of the band for 'Stag', supported Chris for Charlie Brown, helping to arrange the score for members of the Bowden Sinfionetta, of which Colin was the Director, though Chris remained the MD for rehearsals and the show.
(*I first came across Colin during my time at Altrincham Garrick, where he composed the incidental music for a number of productions I did there, most notably for 'Macbeth', 'Equus', 'A View From The Bridge' and 'Julius Caesar'. He was a gifted composer and a virtuoso recorder and clarinet player, and he later went on to become Director Of Music at Warwick University).
Having said all of these caveats, 'Charlie Brown' turned out to be enormous fun. Like 'Demolition Man' before it, it was a really happy show, completely pressure-free, and it still felt like we were presenting something that was quite new and mostly unknown to Manchester audiences. It was a really great script and the music was warm, witty and clever. The show is full of memorable situations and one-liners, and to this day, Amanda and I regularly catch ourselves quoting from it. In the end I went on to direct it three times – twice for Genesis (at The Grange Arts Centre, then a slight remount for The Exchange) and then again for The Garrick where, in 1983 it was my penultimate production there*. On each occasion it was a real joy to rehearse and audiences delighted in discovering it and being drawn gently into Schulz's charmingly wry take on the world, presented through the eyes of kids and a dog!
(*For this version at The Garrick, Chris D must have been unavailable and so Chris Shepherd was the MD).
As well as having Chris Hawley as Snoopy, we were blessed with a perfect cast all round: Alison Davis was born to play Lucy; Andrew Pastor* in his element as the long-suffering Schroeder; Bill Johnson as the hapless, eponymous innocent Charlie Brown, was equally terrific; while Mary Clark* as the tomboy Peppermint Patty with Jacqui Johnson as the myopic Marcie her perennial sidekick, made a gloriously dippy double-act, and all were wonderfully supported by Amanda* as Sally Brown and Gareth Jones* as Pigpen, while I* thoroughly enjoyed myself in the role of the security blanket-hugging, but paradoxically philosophical Linus.
(*For the Royal Exchange production, there were several cast changes as a number of original members were not available following a date change by the Festival organisers: Louis replaced Andrew as Schroeder; Cathy Powell replaced Mary as Patty; Shirley Hawley replaced Amanda as Sally Brown; Ged Sammon replaced Gareth as Pigpen, and Norman Partington replaced me as Linus. All were equally great, bringing their own individual personalities to bear on their own unique interpretations to each role. Alison, Andrew and Norman went on to repeat their roles subsequently in the later Garrick production).
A video recording exists somewhere, I believe, of this Exchange performance – the only video to my knowledge of Genesis to survive – and the infectious warmth and humour of this show is really well captured by it, for it contained so many memorable highlights that I still fondly recall today: Charlie Brown getting so embarrassed when he thinks the (never seen) cute redhead is looking at him and he puts a paper bag on his head, upon which Lucy draws a picture of the party dress she would like; Schroeder seriously playing Beethoven's 'Moonlight Sonata' on his toy piano, while Lucy berates him because “boys never have to think about things like saucepans”; the Peter Rabbit homework assignment (“Peter Rabbit is a stupid book about a stupid rabbit who steals vegetables from other people's gardens”); Charlie Brown bemoaning that he “gets about as many Valentine's Day cards as a dog”, only for Snoopy to walk by counting out the dozens he has received; Charlie Brown's failure to fly a kite; Snoopy imagining he is a World War I flying ace fighting the Red Baron from the top of his doghouse, only to observe at the decisive moment that he “never realised how far it was to the ground from here”; Linus doing a Gene Kelly impersonation with his blanket standing in for an umbrella in the song 'My Blanket & Me'; nobody wanting Charlie Brown to be on their baseball team and Peppermint Patty suggesting kindly that he might like instead to be their Bench Manager: “You could even decide where to put the bench – you could say 'Let's put the bench here', or 'Let's put the bench there', but Charlie insisting on playing anyway only to humiliate himself yet again - “Charlie Brown, you BLEW it”; Marcie insisting on calling Patty “sir”; and Snoopy's show-stopping tap dance celebrating the joys of 'Suppertime'...
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