"You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown," through Feb. 3 at Paradise Theatre.

"You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown," through Feb. 3 at Paradise Theatre.

Paradise Theatre (used by permission of Paradise Theatre)

With the many things happening in current events that make people want to cry or cringe, Paradise Theatre is giving folks something to smile about. It is almost like the good folks at Paradise Theatre in Gig Harbor knew we'd need a respite when they scheduled "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown." Opening this weekend, the life's work of cartoonist Charles Schultz displays all the charm and good humor it did when "Peanuts" was in its hey-day. "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" works as a whimsical musical. It also works as Psychology 101. Dr. Lucy Van Pelt would appreciate the latter. The Opening Night crowd appreciated the former. The show continues through Feb. 3. Friday and Saturday evening shows have a 7:30 p.m. curtain. Saturday matinees begin at 2 p.m. Sunday matinees are not a part of the Paradise Theatre calendar.

Most plays have a linear plot, but this isn't most plays. There is very little that is linear in the two hours the audience gets to spend with the "Peanuts" crowd. In a series of vignettes, half song and half spoken word, those who remember Schultz' strip get a trip down Memory Lane. Those too young to remember "Peanuts" will want to read old comics.

What is the set-up for this show? Charlie Brown is depressed and put down by those who purport to be his friend, (though the audience waited for the word "blockhead," but it never came.) His dog likes him, off and on, but no one else seems to believe Charlie Brown deserves a break, that is until the end. 

Director Jeff Richards deserves his own curtain call for the casting decisions he made. Each character seems born to the task, and they fully buy into Richards' vision for this show.

Peter Knickerbocker plays the lovable loser, Charlie Brown. Mr. Knickerbocker is a veteran of this venue, having been nominated for an award for Tito in last season's "Lend Me a Tenor." An astute student of the stage game, he finds just the right balance for Charlie Brown. Chuck is a guy who keeps on trying. That is, except for brief periods of clinical depression. This combination of "Aw, shucks," and "Why should I be here," is more difficult than it looks. Charlie Brown isn't a cinch to play, but Peter Knickerbocker does a fine job.

Peter Knickerbocker's real-life wife, Rese, plays Lucy in this show. As everyone who is familiar with "Peanuts" knows, Lucy is a bobbed-haired sociopath with anger management issues, wrapped up in an eight-year-old's frame. Formidable as she is, part of Lucy wants to be better. Mrs. Knickerbocker plays both sides of Lucy and plays her well. She also seemed to get a special pleasure out of swatting her husband's behind during the action.

Ask 100 fans of "Peanuts" their favorite character and half will say, "Snoopy," every time. The erstwhile fighter pilot holds a special place in the "Peanuts" canon. In this show, it is Dante True who gets the plum role of Charlie Brown's dog. Most recently, Mr. True had a small part on this stage in "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever." Snoopy is big and important part of this show, and the athletic Dante True worked up a lather playing him. If jumps from high places were a part of the post-season awards, he would be nominated! Mr. True has a future on the stage if he chooses to pursue it. Of course, there is always the chance that he will choose to be a fighter pilot.

Sally is a relatively small part of the comic strip, as Charlie Brown's little sister plays a supporting role. In this show, Jane Johnson's Sally is a firecracker! One of the productions high spots comes about when she, along with Snoopy, goes rabbit hunting. Ms. Johnson, who owns the best singing voice in the cast, is the bane of a rabbit's existence with her dogged determination. No one in this show garners more laughs. That's high cotton for "a relatively small part." 

The blanket-toting philosopher Linus is played by Ethan Dickerson in his Paradise Theatre debut outing. His voice cracks as he says his lines, which makes Linus seem that more endearing. Mr. Dickerson does a good job in a role that could have used higher line total. Linus plays a larger role in the comic strip than he does in this show. Audiences look forward to more from this promising young actor.

Concert-ready pianist Schroeder is an interesting part of the tableau. The sanest member of the troupe, Schroeder adds a note of calm to the chaos that surrounds him. It takes an actor with a touch of Zen to play him well. Joe Heitman exudes that very trait.  Schroeder, as played by Joe Heitman, would become a therapist if the whole piano thing didn't pan out. The audience didn't get a chance to see Schroeder dump Lucy off his piano. That was a staple of the "Peanuts" strip and would be received well by an audience at this show.

The Opening Night crowd for "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown," was relatively small, which is a shame that should be remedied! The people of Gig Harbor are lucky to have Paradise Theatre in their midst, and the theater deserves local support at the box office and in their fundraising. The Paradise operation needs a permanent home. That costs money. They also deserve to have a permanent home on the local social/cultural calendar and in the hearts of the locals. "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" tickets are available on the Paradise ticketing site (run by Thunder Tix). Reservations can also be made by calling 253-851-7529. Call today!