County children give Peanuts gang a musical spin


Perhaps no comic strip characters better portray the growing pains of childhood better than Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang. Now a group of young San Diego County performers give Charles Schultz’s comic characters a musical spin in the Actors’ Conservatory Theatre’s (ACT) presentation of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.”

The fully costumed musical opens on May 8 at San Diego’s Lyceum Theatre in Horton Plaza and runs through May 17.

Based on Schultz’s comic strip, the musical for all ages centers on the many angst-ridden moments in the life of Charlie Brown. The action follows him from daybreak until dark as he plays baseball and copes with everything from Valentine’s Day to his crush on the little red-haired girl. All along the way, he endures Lucy, the bulldozing drama queen.

All the children in the show sing, dance and act, and many key roles are shared by two performers.

“The songs are all sweet, and there are different songs for different moments,” said Staci Vanderwiel, ACT board member. “The song that Schroeder sings about Lucy is comedic, and ‘Suppertime’ by Snoopy is a big dance number.”

Canyon Crest Academy (CCA) student Chase Morrin, of Carmel Valley, directs the four-piece orchestra. Morrin also makes his acting debut, as Schroeder in the play, a role he shares with La Jolla’s Max Oilman-Williams.

Carlsbad student Benjy Malings and Cameron Elmore share the title role of Charlie Brown, and Del Mar’s Peter Hoban and Mason Mercer of Solana Beach share the role of Linus.

Solana Beach’s Torrey Mercer, 15, a CCA 10th-grader, and Carmel Valley resident Julia Vanderwiel, 10, both play the role of Lucy.

Mercer, a Del Mar Idol winner, already has a string of previous musical credits, including “South Pacific,” “Grease” and “High School Musical.”

She enjoys playing the cranky Lucy because the character requires her to take a lot of risks.

“There are some lines where Lucy realizes that she really is a crabby person, and traditionally, that’s said like it’s a sad moment,” Mercer said. “But my coach helped me with the idea that Lucy almost likes that she’s figured out that she’s a crabby person, and I thought that was an interesting possibility.”

“Schroeder” is Mercer’s favorite solo number.

“Lucy has a crush on Schroeder, so she’s singing to him while he’s playing a Beethoven song,” Mercer said, “and Lucy sings right over the Beethoven composition, and that’s really funny.”

Mercer looks forward to a musical summer. She was recently chosen to play Joann in “RENT School Edition,” which will play at the Lyceum in August.

Muirlands student Oilman-Williams, 12, sees many parallels between his own life and his role of the piano-playing Schroeder.

“We’re both musicians - I play the drums and guitar,” Oilman-Williams said. “He’s also energetic, and what he wants to get done, he’s going to get done - he’s determined to make Beethoven Day a holiday, and I think we would both work to get a goal done.”

Oilman-Williams’ favorite musical numbers include “Beethoven Day” and “The Book Report.”

No stranger to the world of grease paint, Oilman-Williams is actively involved in the theater community. Last year, he played Tiny Tim in Cygnet’s presentation of “A Christmas Carol.” His previous credits include “Oliver,” “Wozzeck” and “Cinderella.” During spring break 2008, he performed in the Diversionary Theatre musical “The Daddy Machine,” aboard the Rosie O’Donnell Mexican Riviera cruise.

Oilman-Williams recently did a stage reading of Tim West’s “Cooperstown” with the Carlsbad Play Readers. In June, he’ll start shooting a new independent film, “Safety in Numbers.”

‘You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown’

-May 8-17

-Lyceum Theatre

-79 Horton Plaza

-(858) 777-9899