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COMIC GENIUS SCHULZ'S IMMORTAL CHARACTERS CAPTURED IN 'CHARLIE BROWN'.

Byline: Evan Henerson Theater Critic

Set aside, if you can, the general weirdness of watching adult professional actors dressed as children out of an immortal comic strip. Accept, as you must, the fact that Charles Schulz's punch lines read aloud will never sound the same as they did in your imagination. Understand that Schulz delighted audiences of all ages ... and still managed to be over all our heads. Geniuses do that.

Accomplish all this and you'll be ready for ``You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown.'' It's a family show. No, it's for the grown-ups. There are jump ropes, rabbit hunts and philosophy from a blanket-carrying 5-year-old. Good grief! Auuughhh!

On stage at the Colony Theatre is the revised version of Clark Gesner's 1971 musical - the version that subbed a character, added a couple of new songs and changed some dialogue, all with Schulz's permission. Nostalgia hounds with a scratchy, much-loved soundtrack LP back home shouldn't despair. New arrangements or otherwise, there's no way the updating team of Michael Mayer and Andrew Lippa would mess with standards like ``Happiness,'' ``Suppertime'' and ``The Kite.''

Director Todd Nielsen's production - the new version's L.A. premiere - contains plenty of zest and a pair of marvelous performances from the production's Snoopy and Linus. The staging, a colorful set and some inventive prop work should charm the young and old. This is eye candy, professionally and zestfully presented.

Yet Nielsen can't quite solve the musical's conundrum. ``Charlie Brown'' remains a quirky unsolvable hybrid - a product that will please the ``Peanuts'' passionate but doesn't figure out who else it's playing for. You can bring the kids, by all means, but expect a few furrowed brows.

Much of the ``Peanuts'' strip's continuing story lines are showcased in the musical. On this, an especially bustling day in the life, hapless Charlie Brown (played by Ed F. Martin) pines after his eternal crush, struggles to keep his kite aloft, strikes out in the ninth inning and visits tyrannical Lucy van Pelt (Julie Dixon Jackson) for 5-cents-per-session psychological advice.

Martin radiates a teddy-bearish charisma, sings vibrantly and carries off the shirt with the jagged stripe. But the musical makes him a straight man. Title character or otherwise, you tend to lose the spotlight when your beagle, Snoopy (Nick DeGruccio, the Colony's steadiest scene stealer), is battling the Red Baron from atop his mobile dog house. For his signature number, ``My Blanket and Me,'' Rod Keller's Linus not only partners his security blanket a la Astaire and Rogers, but the blanket ends up turning into a parachute. Great visuals throughout.

Jackson (last seen as one of the twins in the Colony's ``Side Show'') latches onto Lucy's cheerful adolescent sadism and belts her songs appropriately. Leggy Beth Malone brings a kittenish charm to Charlie Brown's sister, Sally, the role that made Kristin Chenoweth a legitimate Broadway star. Roger Befeler conveys Schroeder's single-mindedness. Even without the new song ``Beethoven Day,'' we believe the kid is a nut for the German composer.

This ``Charlie Brown'' looks great, from the original ``Peanuts'' strip visuals that line the walls and upper platforms to the cartoony tree and set pieces designed by Bradley Kaye. It's Charlie Brown country - a deceptively easy place to spend a couple of hours.

YOU'RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN - Three stars

Where: Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank.

When: 8 p.m. Friday, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday; through Sept. 8.

Tickets: $28 to $31. Call (818) 558-7000.

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The revised version of ``You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown'' is getting its L.A. premiere at the Colony Theatre.
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Title Annotation:Review; U
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 16, 2002
Words:607
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