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You're a Good Man Charlie Brown | Upstairs at the Gatehouse

Charles M. Schulz’s Peanuts comic strip is a cultural phenomenon embedded in many people’s imaginations, and Clark Gesner’s musical You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown brings the much-loved characters to life in a new staging Upstairs at the Gatehouse this winter. 

In the titular opening number, it quickly becomes clear that Charlie Brown is not at all sure how much of a good man he is, an existential crisis not helped by the fact that his friends seem determined to point out his flaws as often as they big him up. This could be the setting for a hero’s journey in which Charlie discovers his self-worth, but sadly on this front, the plot largely fails to deliver. In fact, the show fails to deliver much in the way of plot at all, presenting us instead with a series of loosely-connected scenes and musical numbers, a comic strip in musical form. 

This is not to say that You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown is not entertaining. Gesner’s songs (with additional music and lyrics from Andrew Lippa) are catchy and enjoyable, particularly Sally and Schroeder’s early act two performance of ‘My New Philosophy’ and heartwarming closing number ‘Happiness’, and they are accompanied by lively choreography from Amanda Noar, who also acts as director. There are also strong performances throughout, particularly from Millie Robins as Charlie’s little sister Sally, who is splendidly bratty, and Oliver Sidney, who gives an excellent world-weary performance as Snoopy. Jordan Broatch also does a fine job of portraying Charlie’s struggles with confidence, making it even more of a shame that this plotline isn’t more fully developed.

Costumes from Holly Louise Chapman and set design from Ruby Boswell-Green lean heavily into the cartoon origins of the show, and Boswell-Green’s set is also adaptable to the rapidly-changing scenes, with backdrops folding out and lighting, designed by Jen Watson, highlighting previously-unnoticed pieces of set behind the audience in scenes such as the late act two number ‘Little Known Facts. The band, made up of musical director Harry Style on keys, Dave Rice on bass, Ben Burton on drums and percussion, Hannah Garty on violin and Katie Wood on reeds, are visible on stage throughout and play intros and outros to the changing scenes. Style is given the most opportunity to shine, largely due to Schroeder’s (Troy Yip) ongoing Beethoven-related plotline. But the whole band plays well, bringing Gesner and Lippa’s music to life with verve.

A feel-good frolic which sadly lacks the sustained narrative to make it truly shine, You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown is nonetheless worth a watch, particularly for fans of the classic comic strip. You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown runs Upstairs at the Gatehouse until 14th January 2024. For more information and tickets, you can follow the link here.


AD | gifted tickets in return for an honest review | photography by Simon Jackson


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