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Despite actor Joe Hart being temporarily confined to a wheelchair following a recent auto accident, he will still play some of the title role in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.”
Bob Irvin will direct the play for the Fair Oaks Theatre Festival, and he said he thought keeping Hart in the role of the indomitable Charlie Brown is a “fitting tribute to the character – to demonstrate Charlie’s undaunted spirit and unflagging optimism in the face of naysayers.”
But he wasn’t home free. As Hart couldn’t meet the physical demands of the monthlong run of the show, a second “Charlie” was needed.
Enter Michael Bowles, who made his Fair Oaks Theatre Festival debut earlier this summer as Harpo in “Minnie’s Boys.”
“One’s rolling and one’s ambulatory,” Irvin said of his alternating Charlies, who take turns performing the role. “So there are a few blocking changes, like when Charlie’s flying a kite, but it’s all working out great.”
Initially for Irvin, having the opportunity to forego a lengthy casting process during a busy summer by reuniting experienced actors from a previous staging was a huge benefit.
“It makes it a little easier on me,” laughed Irvin, a 22-year festival veteran and American River College Department of Theatre and Film instructor. “We’re doing ‘Peter Pan’ at the campus – a huge 40-person show, and putting on ‘Charlie Brown’ is comparatively easy.”
Not that reviving the festival’s 2006 mounting of ‘Charlie Brown’ was all about his personal convenience, Irvin emphasized.
“People wanted it to come back,” he said. “Audience demand was the No. 1 reason.”
It was a decision that the festival’s 14-member board of directors endorsed. With a familiar show scheduled, all that was left was getting the original Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, Schroeder, Sally and Snoopy back together.
Much easier than reassembling, say, Van Halen, Irvin said he was able to re-recruit everyone except the actor who played the Beethoven-loving pianist Schroeder.
“All are all local, and all it took was a simple phone call,” he said of his happy-to-be-back cast, which includes returning actors Joe Hart as Charlie Brown, Lisa Cotter as Lucy, Daniel Slauson as Linus, Analise Langford-Clark as Sally and Raymond Keller as Snoopy, as well as newcomer Jonathan Blum as Schroeder.
With a head swimming with thoughts and concerns about how to fly American River College students to Never Never Land and back, Irvin’s family-friendly, light-and-breezy, six-character festival show seemed on track to provide audiences – and his nerves – just what they needed.
Until Hart’s injury. But once that was remedied, Irvin said he went back to focusing on something far more challenging than casting – his continuing battle to raise awareness of the festival’s almost three decades of solid performances.
“I think we’re one of the best-kept theater secrets in the Sacramento area,” Irvin said, adding that he’s constantly trying to get the word out.
“You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” is based on the comic strip “Peanuts” by Charles M. Schulz with music and lyrics by Clark Gessner, book by John Gordon, directed by Bob Irvin, musical direction by Lucy D’Mot and choreography by Sunny Smith.
It will be presented by the Fair Oaks Theatre Festival at Veterans Memorial Amphitheater, located at 7991 California Ave. in Fair Oaks.
Shows are Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at 7:30 p.m. Aug.13 through Sept. 12 with an ice cream social Aug. 13 at 6:30 p.m., which includes free ice cream before the performance with admission to the show.
Tickets cost $8-$15
For more information, call (916) 966-3683 or visit fairoakstheatrefestival.com.
photos by John Wagner courtesy of Fair Oaks Theatre Festival