Heights hopes Peanuts popularity will fill theater

Photo by Sue Suchyta

The Dearborn Heights Civic Theatre held its first read-through for the musical, “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown” Jan. 29 at the Berwyn Center. The cast includes Redford Township resident Sara Mayne (left) as Sally, Dearborn resident Emily Gedert as Lucy, and Redford Township residents James Mayne and Ron Williams as Linus and Charlie Brown respectively. The show runs April 13, 14, 20, 21 and 22 at the Berwyn Center, 26155 Richardson in Dearborn Heights.

Like many people, director Marc Walentowicz has been a Peanuts fan since he was a kid, which led him to choose “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” as the Dearborn Heights Civic Theatre spring musical.

It will be performing the show in the round April 13, 14, 20, 21 and 22 at the Berwyn Center, at 26155 Richardson in Dearborn Heights.

“When I was trying to think of a show to do, I kept coming back to this one,” Walentowicz said. “A lot of people I know had done it or directed it and they all highly recommended it, so I thought I would give it a shot – and I really, really like it.”

With the audience seated on three sides he feels there is better interaction between the actors and the audience as well as more flexibility of movement for the cast.

Technically, though, it presents other challenges.

“We have to get together and figure out how we’re going to do a kite flying scene in the round in the Berwyn Center,” Walentowicz said with a laugh.

Doing dance numbers with the audience on three sides presents a unique challenge for choreographer Laura Tyler.

“You’re always challenged to keep all the audience involved all the time,” Tyler said.

She said she’s explained to the cast that the choreography is not technically difficult for the show, but the challenge lies in them making the dance reflect their characters.

“It’s not “42nd Street,” it’s not “West Side Story,” but the actors have to take the choreography and make it come alive,” Tyler said. “Make it Charlie Brown, make it Lucy, make it Linus. So technically it’s not really that difficult; it’s getting them to take it and make it their own and bring the characters out.”

Emily Gedert said that being an older sister has prepared her to bring the part of Lucy to life.

“I kind of grew up as Lucy as soon as my little brother Greg was born,” Gedert said. “I kind of took on the role of protective older sister, tried to show him the ropes but at the same time I had to teach him that I was in charge; whether that was a good thing or a bad thing you’d have to ask him.”

She said she’s trying to play Lucy sophisticated and charming, but with a strong stage presence.

As she grew up, her mother introduced her to the Charlie Brown television specials, and she played the part of Lucy for drama teacher Greg Viscomi while a student at Dearborn High School. She said her life experiences since then will allow her to more fully develop her character.

James Mayne, who plays Linus, said that even though he’s the oldest of three siblings, he’s always been a little kid at heart. His younger sister, Sara, has been cast as Charlie Brown’s sister, Sally, also a younger sister, in the production.

Like Linus’ blanket, Mayne said he had a special comfort object growing up: Pippo, a sock monkey which his mother made by hand. Pippo is still around, and Mayne said Pippo took on the role of an unofficial good luck prop in “The Drowsy Chaperone” and “On Golden Pond” at the Players Guild of Dearborn.

This is the largest role Mayne has played to date, and he said he’s a bit nervous.

“Once I found out I got the part I was really excited,” Mayne said. “But then I did have a couple brief minutes there of ‘Oh my God what did I just do?’ as I started flipping through (and) looking at the number of lines as I started highlighting and highlighting and highlighting.”

He’s also excited to be stepping outside his comfort zone and trying a show outside of the Players Guild, where he has worked exclusively to date.

Sara Mayne also is excited to be able to play a role in a new venue.

She played the part of Sally at Redford Union High School in “Snoopy – the Musical,” which she said was different from “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown” because she didn’t have any solos in that production.

While she successfully played a child in “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” at the Players Guild of Dearborn last year, she said she doesn’t see herself becoming typecast.

“I don’t like to fall into too many parts of the same type, but it is fun to act like a little kid, so that never really gets old,” she said. “You don’t get to do that every day.”

Ron Williams, who had to shave his beard to impersonate a woman in the comedy “’Til Beth Do Us Part,” which closed Jan. 29 at the Players Guild of Dearborn, is now contemplating whether to shave his head, which currently sports a crew cut, for the part of Charlie Brown.

He said he’s still a kid at heart, and sometimes feels like a 6-year-old trapped in a 30-year-old man’s body.

He also believes that Charlie Brown’s gullibility allows him to keep trying to kick the football that Lucy inevitably yanks out from under him.

“I think Charlie Brown really wants to think that everybody’s great, and they’re not,” Williams said. “It’s kind of sad actually.”

Brian Welch is reprising the role of Snoopy, having played the character two years ago with a community theater in Grosse Pointe. He said he finds the part of Snoopy to be fun and quirky.

“He gets to do these ‘out-of-the-box’ type things,” Welch said. “You get to represent a dog … when I did it before I tried to put dog-like actions to actually being human.”

He added that he finds it fun trying to create the character of an animal when you’re a person.

Producer Jerry Kondraciuk said the biggest challenge he faces as the show’s producer is not technical – it’s getting people to come see their shows.

“It’s more of a challenge nowadays, with the economy the way it is, to get people to want to come out and see a show,” Kondraciuk said. “This time we’re hoping the comic aspects of the show will harken back to people’s childhood and they’ll decide that they want to come and have a good time.

“There’s a lot of singing, a lot of dancing. We’ve got a great cast, so we’re hoping this will be the show to finally get our group out of the funk that we’ve been in.”

Others in the cast include Corey Chambliss as Schroeder, Sean Randolph as Pig-Pen, Chris Fraser as Shermy, Dustin Hanson as Roy, Clara Albright as Peppermint Patty, Marissa Campitelle as Marcie and Allison Shenk as Violet.

For more information go to the DHCT Facebook page or go to www.dhctstage.org.

The Dearborn Heights Civic Theatre will present a “Romantical Musical Revue” at 8 p.m. Feb. 17 and 18 at the Berwyn Center featuring both silly and serious musical valentines.

Tickets are $10, with cabaret seating for groups of four or eight people.

Dearborn High School students and alumni scheduled to perform include Camille Charara, Mary Charara, Jordan DiGregorio, Dylan Frabutt, Kira Frabutt, Juliet Higgins, Vicki Johnson, Westley Montgomery, Kate Pollidori and Tim Smith.

Also performing are Phillip Booth and Michael Falzon of Dearborn, Shauna Hazime and Cayla Kolbusz of Dearborn Heights, Leah Page Cooley of Allen Park and Annette Ripper of Northville.

DHCT also plans to bring the Hartland Players in to do “Escanaba,” the prequel to “Escanaba in the Moonlight” at 8 p.m. March 9 and 10 as a fundraiser. The admission cost is a $10 donation to the DHCT general fund.

Dearborn actress Kirsten Knisely will perform in the Abreact Performance Space’s premiere presentation of “Burn the Red Banner: Or, Let the Rebels Have Their Fun,” a collection of short plays by Shelby Township playwright Franco Vitella.

The show, which opened Feb. 3 and runs weekends through Feb. 26, is described as a “riff on the Russian comedy aesthetic in a delightfully absurd and hilarious manner.”

Frannie Shepherd-Bates directs the show, which, in addition to Knisely, features Steve Xander Carson of Detroit, Jonathon Davidson of Ferndale and Keith Kalinowski of Ann Arbor.

The performances take place at 1301 W. Lafayette Ave., in Detroit.

For tickets, call 313-285-0217 or 313-454-1542, or send an email message to reservations@theabreact.com.

For more information about the production, call 313-378-5404 or go to www.theabreact.com.