By Stephanie Meditz
Last weekend, Royal Star Theatre brought audience members back to their childhoods with its production of “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown.”
The four-show run at The Mary Louis Academy in Jamaica was the company’s first full fledged production since the COVID-19 pandemic.
In her directorial debut with RST, Alison Kurtzman made the difficult choice of what show to put on after two and a half years away from the stage and ultimately made the perfect decision — a lighthearted, universally loved production with a small cast.
“We put a lot of thought into what was the right show to do in terms of what cast we would have available, how comfortable people would feel coming down to audition or coming to see a show, all that casting,” she said. “It was just really exciting to be able to kind of help this and be the first show back.”
“I don’t think people realized how much they missed this until they came back to it,” she continued. “It’s just a really exciting time for all of us, and it’s really great to be able to be back in some semblance.”
The musical “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” consists of a series of vignettes that depict Charles M. Schulz’s beloved Peanuts in adorably funny situations that align with their infamous traits.
For instance, Linus van Pelt (played by Danielle Fleming) and his signature blanket led a lively dance number,”My Blanket & Me,” but not before he attempts and fails to walk away from it.
Lucy van Pelt (Aglaia Ho) stomped around and demanded the other Peanuts to participate in a survey to measure her crabbiness level.
Daniel Kuhlman especially shone in the titular role — from start to finish, he emulated an anxious child with every stumbling step and pout when the cute little redhead once again did not notice him.
“Most of Queens’ community theaters are just coming back this summer, so everyone was just so excited to be here that it wasn’t hard to get excitement out of the cast,” Kurtzman said. “It really didn’t take much to get them to have that exuberance.”
It was no small feat for this cast to adopt children’s body language in a convincing way — the Peanuts are all children (or dogs), but RST’s cast was made up entirely of adults.
“Characterization is super important in this musical because you’re remaking these beloved comic strip characters and all these specials that people watch around the holidays onto the stage,” Caitlin Leahy said, in reference to her role as Snoopy. “You have to be larger than life, especially since it’s a stage production.”
Leahy, who wanted to play Snoopy as soon as she found out about the show, screamed when Kurtzman called to tell her she got the part.
“I feel like Snoopy and I have a lot in common,” she said. “Very effervescent personalities, but Snoopy can be very sassy at times, so I’m trying to bring out that side of me more…There are a lot of times where Snoopy has this switch between being a calm and stoic personality and switching to this very funny, comedic, almost predatory dog who still has animalistic instincts. ”
Leahy, the youngest member of the cast, attended high school at The Mary Louis Academy and returned to its stage as a college student.
“As I’m still in the area for college, I’m always passing by,” she said. “I’m officially an adult now onstage, and it feels different because I’m working with different people and it’s a different production. And while the change was pretty drastic, I’m still at where I started my theater experience in freshman year.”
Although this was Leahy’s first show with RST, she had arguably the most difficult stage directions in the show, between standing atop her doghouse, chasing metaphorical sticks on all fours and finding a balance between human and canine movements.
Daniel Kuhlman (Charlie Brown) likewise had a difficult role to play, given that his character was likely everyone in the audience’s favorite.
“I think more than trying to copy any previous idea of what Charlie Brown is, I tried to look at it more from ‘What does a seven-ish year old with anxiety look like?’ and just sort of use that as a base and go from there,” he said. “And then make sure that whenever I’m rehearsing lines at home or when I’m running the songs, I’m always keeping in mind that I am an anxious, very young child.”
Although Kuhlman never studied theater or pursued it as a career, it has been inseparable from his everyday life.
He posts niche theater content on his TikTok account, @dankuhlman, which boasts 12.9k followers.
“Anyone who knows me…knows that, at any given point, it’s not ‘What’s your next show?,’ it’s ‘What are you in rehearsals for right now?’” he said.
Royal Star Theatre dedicated its run of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” to Natalie “Cookie” Knisbaum, one of RST’s founding members who died recently.
To learn about Royal Star Theatre’s upcoming productions, visit their website at www.royalstartheatre.org.