Meet the Peanuts gang

AACI’s J-Town Playhouse brings the classic musical comedy 'You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown' to the Holy City.

The cast of the of the J-Town Playhouse production of ‘You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown.’ (photo credit: ITA ARBIT)
The cast of the of the J-Town Playhouse production of ‘You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown.’
(photo credit: ITA ARBIT)
Charlie Brown and friends have been delighting children and adults since the Peanuts comic strip first appeared in print in 1950. The Peanuts was the longest-running and most popular comic strip ever. In 1967, Clark Gesner adapted it into a musical, which became a successful Broadway and off-Broadway production. Charlie Brown, Linus, and the rest of the gang have now come to Jerusalem, courtesy of the AACI theater and the J-Town Playhouse. You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown will run from November 22 through December 2, with 10 performances in all, including a special Thanksgiving event featuring a dinner at La Golanda followed by an 8 p.m. show.
Director Aviella Trapido sat down with The Jerusalem Post to discuss the allure of childhood, finding happiness in the small things, and why Charlie Brown appeals to everyone, adults and kids alike.
Can you describe the show for those who may not be familiar with it? It’s based on the Peanuts comics by famous cartoonist Charles Schultz. I grew up with Snoopy and the gang, and read the comics from a very young age. To find out that there was a musical about it was super exciting. It was also adapted into an animated television show in 1985. I grew up watching that as a kid. We would always sing the songs in the car as a family. When the opportunity arose for me to direct it, I couldn’t pass it up. It was exciting, almost like bringing my childhood memories onto the Jerusalem stage. It doesn’t get any cooler than that. Up until now, I’ve done a lot of Stephen Sondheim and other, serious work, so it was a pleasure to step away from that and do something really fun, different, and high energy.
Yes, it’s definitely different from previous productions that you’ve directed. How has that been for you? In the beginning, I thought I was taking a step away from anything serious and doing something that’s what I like to call fluff. But I discovered very quickly that that wasn’t necessarily the case. As a director, to warm up my cast, we start every rehearsal with a good memory and a not so good memory from childhood. We go around the room, playing with a ball of yarn, and we create a web. I ask them to infuse those memories into their character. That has brought up so many beautiful elements.
It’s personalized everybody’s role to such a great extent. I never even saw it coming.
So even though it is a fluffy show, it reminds us all of the carefree innocence and happiness of being a child, but also how profound it is to be a child; how the world looks [through] a child’s eyes. It’s much deeper than we can even fathom as adults. With the actors bringing their own memories to the surface, it has brought out so many beautiful, poignant moments in the show. It’s been an evolution, and I’m very proud of my cast, they’re really incredible. They’ve worked hard and they are ready to give this show to the rest of Jerusalem.
Do you typically do exercises like that during rehearsals for shows? With all my shows, I think the exercises are very important. Because the actors are not professionals and they’re all coming from a long day of being a parent, a teacher, a doctor, a lawyer, or whatever else. They’re all coming from their days and we bring that into the room, and somehow they’re supposed to let go of all of that and plug into the rehearsal. That’s not easy to do. The exercises are good for the actors in that way.
I have a motto for every cast that I’ve ever worked with, which is, “Leave your troubles at the door.” That’s easier said than done, but by doing these exercises, the cast develops a closeness with each other by sharing their thoughts and feelings from the day. It allows them to unburden themselves.
The result is that everyone leaves the rehearsal on a high, which is exactly what I want. I want them to enjoy the experience and to come away feeling like they’ve achieved something. It goes far beyond the actual show; it’s what community theater is all about. The cast forms a community among themselves. With every show I’ve ever done, I always do exercises, which I shift to connect to whatever show we happen to be working on. With this show in particular, I found it so important to reconnect to childhood memories. It opened up so much for my actors. They’re incredible.
Your motto of leaving your troubles at the door works for the audience as well, right? Good theater allows the audience to do that; to immerse themselves in the show.
Yes, I think that’s the best success a show can have. I think you hit the nail on the head. When audiences feel that they have stepped into another world that transcends whatever feelings or thoughts they had when they walked in, that is true success.
We’re gearing this show toward children and families, but there is not a single adult who can watch this show until the end and not feel a connection of some kind because it touches on the most primitive and basic things in all of us.
Also for many Americans, they have a nostalgic connection already to Charlie Brown.
Right, I think so. It’s really fun, uplifting, and hopeful.
What is the message with which you hope people will leave the theater? Happiness; that it’s not the big things in life, it’s the small ones. That’s harder to do the older we get. But seeing the world through children’s eyes, happiness could be finding a pencil, catching a firefly, or using your favorite crayons. These are things that make life happy and we tend to forget that as we get older.
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