KEARNEY — What goes around comes around.
“‘You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown’ was the first show we ever produced for Crane River Theater here at Yanney Park,” said Steve Barth, executive director of Crane River Theater, during a break in building the set for the show at Yanney Heritage Park. “It was 10 years ago. We brought in our first artists. We experienced wind and weather and heat for the first time out here. And then we decided, let’s do it again.”
A decade later, Barth and his company will stage the musical, based on the characters of the Peanuts comic strip, opening June 21 and continuing through July 3 at the Cope Amphitheater at Yanney Heritage Park. Admission is $5 per person.
“Honestly, we had such a ball the first time that we did the show,” Barth said. “Not only did we have fun bringing in these artists and producing the show, but just the production itself has so much vitality and life. We had so much fun the first time around, we thought, let’s tell this story again.”
The musical comedy first appeared Off-Broadway in 1967. Since then, it has become one of the most produced musicals in the American theater, telling the story of the characters in short vignettes with a musical number for each one.
Looking back, Barth said the first performances attracted an audience of about 250.
“Now we get about 2,000 audience members each night,” he said. “In total, our first run had about 2,000 audience members the first year. Now we get that in one night.”
A decade of theater experience has taught Barth and his company how to smooth out the production wrinkles and create a powerful theater experience for audience members.
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“Even over the course of learning during those 10 years, there are still a lot of things we look back on that first year and say, ‘That worked well, let’s do that again,’” Barth said. “The magic is still there. Each year we take a little bit of what we enjoy and move forward with that.”
As for the musical, Barth understands that the show comes with a built-in audience — readers of the comic strip by Charles Schulz.
“It’s the longest story ever told of one child,” the director said. “In 50 years of time, Charlie Brown grew 2½ years in age. But I think it shows the testament of the story, that people over the course of 50 years still relate to this character and his friends.”
Barth sees Charlie Brown as the eternal optimist.
“He’s never won a baseball game,” he said. “His team has won 10 games but he just didn’t happen to play those 10 games. He’s never kicked a football, he’s never successfully flown a kite and yet every year in every single comic, he continues to do these things day after day. There’s just something in the optimism and hope that we all relate to.”
Barth also believes that we relate to the daily struggle that Charlie Brown battles.
“Charles Schulz had a quote in which he said that he could tell the story of a boy who wins all the time, but that’s not funny,” Barth said. “It’s in the struggle and it’s in the losing and it’s in the hardships that we actually find relatability and joy and laughter.”