The Burr and Burton Academy Media and Performing Arts Department is hoping to supply the answer with a production of "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown," a musical based on the well-known cartoon strip "Peanuts" series penned by Charles Schulz from 1950-2000.
That's where Charlie Brown, Lucy, Schroeder, Linus and of course Snoopy, along with the rest of the gang, navigated their way - or tried to - through the perils and trapdoors of adolescence. During its heyday, "Peanuts" obtained a following and had a cultural impact that went far beyond the newsprint it was published on. Schulz produced nearly 18,000 Peanuts strips in all, which were published in about 2,600 newspapers and read by more than 355 million people.
"We wanted to do something that was good for all ages," said Jim Raposa, the BBA theater instructor who is directing "Charlie Brown."
After a series of major large scale musicals staged in recent years like "Chicago," "Godspell" and "Grease," "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" will represent a distinct change of pace. The show is basically a series of vignettes of the day-in, day- out life of Charlie Brown and his friends from the neighborhood. The basic theme is that the simple things can bring you happiness, Raposa said.
The musical opens with a scene about Charlie Brown speculating on what he has to do to become a really good person. From there, we wind through his exploration, which as readers of the "Peanuts" strip will know or recall, involve Charlie having to triumph over adversity frequently. Whether it's winning the attention of a cute girl in school, flying a kite successfully, or playing baseball, Charlie encounters multiple moments that test his inner fortitude and sense of security.
Linus, Lucy, Schroder, Sally and Snoopy all get to experience their ups and downs as well.
The show will be spliced full of upbeat song and dance numbers, mixed in with the wry irony of the struggles of Charlie and the rest of the "Peanuts" gang.
But for many followers of "Peanuts" there was - and remains - a deeper more metaphorical meaning underneath the adolescent drama. Lucy may have played the overbearing kid in class, Schroeder may have dreamed of being the next Beethoven and Snoopy a daredevil flying ace from World War I, but they were also symbols of overcoming obstacles. Charles Schulz also wove into his strips some subtle commentary about contemporary events, particularly in the tumultuous 1960s, when he introduced "Franklin," one of the first African-American characters in a mainstream comic strip. He also commented from time to time on the Vietnam War, as well as poking fun at the introduction of zip codes.
The contrast between the child characters and the often sophisticated messages was one of the primary drivers of the interest in the comic strip.
"This was the way Schulz was commenting on the world as he saw it," Raposa said. "For me, growing up, this (Peanuts) was a staple - the television shows, movies - it was a staple of the holiday season. We're hoping to introduce a new generation and their parents to 'Charlie Brown.'"
The musical will be staged on a relatively straightforward set, designed by Paul Molinelli with a cast of 17 actors, along with an orchestra conducted by Andrew Alden.
The lighting was designed by Weston Playhouse veteran Stuart Duke, who also has a daughter in the cast, Christie, who plays Sally Brown.
Charlie Brown is played by Owen Barclay; Lucy Van Pelt by Bailey Ring; Linus Van Pelt by Zachariah Gordon; Schroeder by Eric Owens; Snoopy by Anna Foster; Woodstock/Frieda by Emma Weinstein; Peggy Jean by Martha Turner; Peppermint Patty by Cydney Jeffrey; Marcie by Tess Webber; Lydia by Isabel Abs; Violet by Emet Koffman; Pig Pen by Dakoda Harrington; Charlotte by Ashley Morse; Patty by Anwen Su; and Eudora Alaina DeMauro.
The choreography was directed by Claudia Shell-Raposa and the sound design is by Neil Freebern.
Opening night is Tuesday, May 13, and performances will be staged each night through Saturday, May 17. Curtain time is 6:30 p.m. The show lasts about 90 with no intermission.
Tickets are $7 for Burr and Burton students, faculty, staff and children under 18 and $12 for the general public. Tickets may be ordered online at bbatickets.com.
Artwork inspired by the "Peanuts" cartoon strip and made by the 8th grade art class at Maple Street School will be posted in the lobby to get the audience in the mood. Also, the cast and crew of the show will be raising funds at the end of each show to support the Manchester Community Food Cupboard.