This story was corrected on Oct. 8, 2012. An explanation follows the story.
Starting Wednesday, the theater department at Montgomery College invites audiences to reminisce with old friends. Fictional friends, that is.
Based on the book, music and lyrics by Clark Gesner and the comic strip by Charles Schulz, “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” runs through this weekend at Montgomery College.
Similar to the comic strip it’s based on, the musical comedy is a series of vignettes documenting a day in the life of America’s most lovable loser, his dog and his gang of friends. “You’re a Good Man,” originally debuted off Broadway in 1967 and starred Gary Burghoff (of “M*A*S*H” fame) as the title character.
The show has had several revivals since, including a 1999 run on Broadway which earned actors Kristin Chenoweth and Roger Bart a few Tony awards for their roles as Sally Brown and Snoopy, respectively.
The Montgomery College production is directed by professional actor and adjunct faculty member in the theater department at George Mason University, James Gardner.
Gardner, who lives in Annandale, Va., says he understands the importance of remaining true to the Peanuts characters who are so near and dear to so many.
“For people who grew up watching the TV specials or knowing the comic strip, there’s a big sense of nostalgia,” says Gardner. “There’s something very timeless about these characters.”
Once Gardner was hired to direct the show, he approached fellow actor and choreographer Bobby Smith about joining the team.
This is not the first time the two have worked together. In August, they appeared in the Olney Theatre production of “Little Shop of Horrors.”
Neither Gardner nor Smith has seen the Broadway production of “You’re a Good Man,” but both agree that doesn’t matter, and may even work in their favor.
“Peanuts characters were a part of my life growing up so I know them pretty well,” says Smith.
Gardner has an even more intimate relationship with the Peanuts crew — in February he played Snoopy for Olney Theatre’s production of the same show.
Even Gardner and Smith’s cast of six college actors say they have their own connection with the Peanuts.
“The Christmas special, I grew up watching that,” says Kevin Mori, who stars as the blanket-toting Linus. “I had it on VHS tape and it probably wouldn’t work [now] because I rewound it and watched it so many times.”
Despite having a preconceived image of Linus, Mori says he was determined to make the character his own.
“I’m drawing from the cartoons, but I’m also trying to make it something new,” says Mori.
Gardner and Smith say they’ve tried to do the same.
“We’re not bringing any of those ideas from [Broadway] to the table with us,” says Gardner. “We’re making it our own.”
Despite wanting to make their production unique, Gardner and Smith say they understand the importance of staying true to a group of characters that mean so much to audiences.
“We’ve tried to put in little gems,” says Gardner. “The way Snoopy sounded ... or some of the mannerisms.”
“You see it and you go, ‘This is so familiar,’” added Smith.
Beyond nostalgia purposes, Smith says he and Gardner felt it was important to stick to the script in order to preserve the message of Peanuts creator, Schulz.
“It’s completely Peanuts, we haven’t done anything that wasn’t already in the score,” says Smith. “Those characters have so much to say ... there is so much wit and irony ... they’re wise beyond their years. It’s important to maintain because I think Charles Schulz is telling us that children are very wise.”
While “You’re a Good Man” is technically a musical, Smith says there aren’t many big dance numbers in the show.
“Peanuts characters weren’t huge dancers,” says Smith. “We don’t do the Cabbage Patch or do any Beyoncé moves in it or anything.”
Although, he admits, that could be fun.
In an earlier version of the story, “Schulz” was misspelled.