WESTERLY — Three Charlie Browns on stage at the same time? Good grief!
Westerly High School students Alex Celico, Rosemarie Mirabella, and Margaret Tetlow will have their own distinct Charlie Brown roles in "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown," the family friendly musical that opens tonight at Babcock Hall.
"At one point they're even on stage at the same time," said Alana Rader, who co-directs the play with Jon L. Peacock, as she explained the nontraditional casting decision.
"We took a risk," she said. "It was a bold idea but it's working out."
After all, added Rader, the Charlie Brown in the play features Charlie Brown at different stages, so why not different actors?
"Alana and I see Charlie Brown as an 'everyman,''' said Peacock, who co-directed last season's high school production of "Our Town" with Rader. "That was a major factor in our decision to cast multiple Charlies of different genders."
As Rader noted, "We all have moments when we feel like blockheads."
"Charlie Brown has so much heart," she added, "and I think the strong ensemble we have created in our theater department is very evident — on stage and off."
The musical, based on the comic strip "Peanuts" by Charles M. Schulz, centers around Charlie Brown, who, though considered to be "a good man" by his friends, can't seem to win the heart of The Little Redheaded Girl. Meanwhile, characters like Lucy, the piano-playing Schroeder, Snoopy and Linus daydream, play with kites, and deal with school, baseball and misunderstandings before finally coming to realize what brings them true happiness.
Sophomore Hope Urbonas, who played Emily Webb in "Our Town" last December, will play the role of Snoopy, everybody's favorite beagle; while Allison Ornberg will play Lucy; Aislinn Gibson, Sally; Owen Muller, Linus; Marissa Sherry, Schroeder; Janna Califf, Peppermint Patty; Brooke Turano, Marcy; Kara Allen, Snoopy's brother, Spike; Jessica Tetlow, Pigpen; and Lisa Yuen in the double role of Woodstock and The Little Redheaded Girl.
"We're petty excited," said Rader. "We have three student musicians and we even hired a professional pianist."
William Groth, the pianist for the production, will be accompanied by two percussionists: David Reid on drum set and Max Palmer on auxiliary percussion, and Jacob Jolly on bass guitar and as bandleader.
"It's a student-run crew too," added Rader. "We're all a big community and the theater is inclusive. It brings the best version of everyone forward."
Rader said a grant from the Rhode Island Foundation has allowed her and Peacock to teach at the high school this semester, and to direct the play for the student acting troupe, known as the Stagedogs.
The name Stagedogs, explained Peacock, actually comes from the school's old theater program, which dissipated about 12 years ago.
The cast of "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" chose unanimously to bring it back, he said.
Rader said, "Something else that's really struck a chord with us throughout this process is how much the students support one another. From helping to learn choreography and harmonies — or if someone is having a bad day — the students have demonstrated a tremendous amount of patience and care for and with each other."
Peacock said, "It’s been a personal honor to get to see this program, and these students, grow in such amazing ways. This musical feels like the perfect culmination for the now fully integrated theater program at Westerly High school."
The directors also expressed their appreciation to Superintendent Mark Garceau, Principal Michael Hobin, school music director Sarah Ferry, music department, John Tedeschi in the visual arts department, and Daniel McKenna in the construction technology department, "whose students built all of our sets pieces."
"You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" is a joint effort of the Colonial Theatre of Westerly and the Westerly High School Drama Club.