And now something absolutely no one was asking for: a 2,670-word, track-by-track breakdown and comparison between the two Charlie Brown musicals: “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” and its sequel “Snoopy the Musical.” The general consensus is that the former, being the original, is far superior, and indeed, if you’re only counting the number of times a musical has been produced—whether Broadway, Off-Broadway, Off-Off Broadway, or your local junior high—“You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” wins hands down. But I’m not convinced.
To be honest, I’ve been wanting to write this blog for years—even before this website existed—but I figured no one would care, except for the occasional reader who happened to star in one of these productions. But I asked the webmaster of this site if it was okay to post such an inessential piece (a really swell guy named Mike Perone—you should meet him!), and he was like, “No problem, man!” so I’m going ahead with this anyway, clicks be damned.
Before I begin my overthinking analysis, I want to set a few ground rules. I’m not comparing the “stories,” such as they are, between these two musicals since they’re both just cobbled together from various strips of the classic “Peanuts” comic by the great, late Charles Schulz. We’re just comparing songs here to see which musical is most worth its salt. Also, in this blog, I’ll only be referring to the 1999 Broadway version of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” and the 1983 West End production of “Snoopy the Musical” in London because, well, those are the only versions of these musicals’ cast albums that I own. The 1999 “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” starred a post-“Rent” Anthony Rapp as Charlie Brown, a pre-“Wicked” Kristin Chenoweth as Sally, and a, uh, post-“Jurassic Park” but pre-“Jurassic World” B. D. Wong as Linus. This production featured a full orchestra. Meanwhile, the West End production of “Snoopy the Musical” starred a bunch of no-name Brits trying to sound American—and mostly failing—and the entire “orchestra” consisted of a piano, drums, and the occasional bass and/or organ. So right away, besides being much more famous than its sequel, “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” has all the advantage. Let’s see if that advantage lasts, starting with the original:
- The title—and first—song of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” is just a simple march with a bunch of platitudes for lyrics. It’s not a bad song, per se, but it’s hardly worth naming your entire show after.
- “Schroeder” is literally just Beethoven’s “Midnight Sonata” (the title character is playing it on his toy piano) with Lucy loudly and obnoxiously screeching over it. Next song.
- “Snoopy”: Okay, here we have the first decent song. The melody is lovely, and the lyrics are clever, as Snoopy muses about his simple life as a dog lying on his doghouse: “Cozy home, board and bed/Sturdy roof beneath my head.” Then the song’s tempo and orchestration switch on a dime—similar to Snoopy’s imaginative, temperamental mood—when he fantasizes about being a jungle animal. It’s delightful but would fit more in the show’s sequel since, you know, it’s very specifically about Snoopy.
- “My Blanket and Me” isn’t terrible, but it’s mostly an instrumental with some spoken-word dialogue sprinkled throughout. Sorry, but in my mind, instrumentals aren’t befitting for a Broadway musical since musicals are supposed to be all about the vocals.
- “The Kite” is another decent song, though it never reaches the heights of “Snoopy.” (See what I did there?) Again: good, not great.
- “The Doctor Is In” is an okay song. It’s not spectacular nor spectacularly bad. To be honest, I don’t have much to say about this track, as it’s not something that lingers in your memory. (I always forget this song exists when I play the CD.) And that’s the song’s problem.
- “Beethoven Day” is cute and spunky. At least it’s an improvement over the last song, though that’s not saying much. I have a nitpick, however, because they make it seem like Schroeder is the one who’s usually upset with things being “too commercial,” but that was always good ol’ Charlie Brown’s problem, especially during his Christmas special. C’mon, “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” get your Peanuts canon right!
- “The Book Report” actually boasts a great idea for a song. Unfortunately, its execution is a different matter. I love the idea of a group of kids fussing, in various ways, over completing a homework assignment, but for me, the song never gels or reaches the melodic heights of the second attempt at this song in the musical’s sequel. (See “Edgar Allen Poe” below.)
- I’ll admit, “My New Philosophy” is a delight, but it’s more in the delivery than in the music. The melody is nothing special, but Kristin Chenoweth as Sally acts the HELL out of this song. She goes from cute to sassy to spiteful in a flash, and it’s no wonder she was a future Tony winner.
- “T-E-A-M (The Baseball Game)” is just a sports chant—you know, the kind you hear at baseball games and other “sports ball games,” to borrow a phrase from Stephen Colbert. (“Give me a ‘T’! Give me an ‘E’!,” etc.) Honestly, I’ve always found these “songs” annoying, and, again, they don’t exactly lend themselves to a Broadway musical.
- Similar to “Schroeder,” “Glee Club Rehearsal” is just painful to listen to, and maybe that’s the point, as the kids are desperately trying to remain on key during a singing practice of the old ditty “Home on the Range” in their school while arguing about miscellaneous kid stuff (“Give me my pencil!,” etc.). I couldn’t listen to this track more than twice, and it’s been skipped ever since.
- “Little Known Facts” suffers from the same fate as the aforementioned “The Book Report,” where the idea is great, but the execution fails. The idea here is that one of the characters, in this case Lucy, is acting like a know-it-all (or, as the song proves, a “know-it-nothing”) telling all the other kids “facts” about life, like how bugs make the grass grow and snow falls up. It’s cute but, again, not very melodic, which is on par for this musical. Once more, the Peanuts gang got a second chance to get it right in the next musical. (See “I Know Now” below.)
- “Suppertime” is a rare treat, no pun intended, in that it’s actually a halfway decent song. Although the music would sound more at home at a supper club (hence the title), as Snoopy sings and dances for his dinner, it’s still tuneful and Broadway-ready, boasting a strong melody, which, as I’ve hopefully demonstrated so far, is unusual for this show. But (you probably know what I’m going to write), it would make so much more sense for this song to be featured in the sequel musical since it’s all about Snoopy.
- Okay, here we go. “Happiness” is the show’s first truly excellent song. The melody is gorgeous, and the song’s seemingly simple lyrics are poignant and profound: “Happiness is anyone and anything at all/that’s loved by you.” Good job, “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.” Here is your first four-out-of-four-stars song. Unfortunately, it’s also your only one.
- You can’t count “Bows,” the last track here, since it’s just a curtain call for the cast with a quick reprise of the last song, “Happiness.”
So there you go. That’s “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” (at least the turn-of-the-last-century production of it), and out of 15 songs (14 if you don’t count the “Bows”), there’s really only a handful of decent to great songs here, with “Happiness,” the last proper song, being a standout.
Now onto the sequel, “Snoopy the Musical”:
- Truth be told, “The World According to Snoopy” is about on par with the other musical’s title song, in that they’re not very special but they serve their purpose in introducing the major characters of the show. Still, I’ll give this one the slight edge simply because it’s more musical.
- “Snoopy’s Song” is slightly annoying, with the kids barking, “Sit up! Lie down! Roll over! Play dead!” over and over at Snoopy, but if I had to choose between this song and Lucy’s terrible, ear-piercing screech over Beethoven in the other musical’s second song, “Schroeder,” I’m going with this one every time.
- “Woodstock’s Theme” is an instrumental, similar to the first musical’s “My Blanket and Me,” so I have to judge it by the same criteria. However, the music in this song, with its jazzy piano and staccato percussion, is superior to the other instrumental, so this one wins.
- “Hurry Up Face” is surprisingly contemplative and almost melancholy, as Lucy bemoans her less-than-stellar looks over a droning organ line. Any song that makes you sympathize with Lucy gets high marks.
- “Edgar Allen Poe” is the first standout track of the musical. As I wrote in my breakdown of the last musical’s songs, the idea behind this song is similar to “The Book Report,” only instead of the kids worrying about doing their homework, they’re worried about being called on by their teacher, particularly Charlie Brown who gets every answer wrong. The key here is in the vocal arrangement of the parts, as over an appropriately jittery piano line, the kids (well, adults playing kids) actually achieve a sort of beautiful harmony that was nowhere near the former track. The ending, especially, is inspiring, as all the parts come together like a neat jigsaw puzzle. It has to be heard to fully appreciate.
- “Mother’s Day” is a throwback, old-fashioned tune that befits an old-school Broadway musical (the actor playing Snoopy particularly hams it up), but to be honest, it didn’t move me much, despite the actor’s best intentions.
- As I mentioned in my previous write-up, the idea behind “I Know Now,” where kids are insisting to others how much they know by listing things that are very much wrong, is similar to “Little Known Facts,” only the music and vocal arrangement here are above and beyond the first musical’s track. Also, the lyrics are cleverer and inspire a chuckle or two: “I know now that your body isn’t leaking when you cry.” Too cutesy? Hey, it’s Peanuts! Lighten up!
- “The Vigil” is another excellent song about Linus waiting for The Great Pumpkin. It’s a harrowing tale as he stays up all night with Snoopy, backed by a jumpy piano line and bouncy drumbeat. Your heart really goes out to Linus in a way not felt since the classic holiday special, “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” only the song manages to do it in less than 4 minutes instead of half an hour (okay, 25 minutes after cutting commercials).
- Right after one superb song, we get another with “Clouds,” a beautiful meditation on what fancy creatures, characters, and scenarios the kids dream up by staring at the various shapes of clouds in the sky. The kids see Camelot, the Eiffel Tower, all twelve apostles, and other important historical figures, and then they ask Charlie Brown what he sees. Of course, straight out of the comic, Charlie gets the big punchline at the end: “I was going to say a horsey and a ducky, but I changed my mind.” And, not to overemphasize it, the music is really beautiful, perfectly capturing the wistful nostalgia of a lazy childhood day gazing at clouds.
- After two great songs in a row, the next was bound to be a letdown, and it is here, with “Where Did That Little Dog Go?” a mournful ballad about Charlie missing Snoopy. Similar to the former musical’s “The Doctor Is In,” I don’t have much to say about it aside from the fact it almost immediately evaporates from your memory as soon as you hear it, and maybe that’s a good thing. After all, the less said about this song, the better.
- Things pick up with “Dime a Dozen,” a jaunty tune about Lucy hawking a litter of pups. The lyrics and their expert delivery are just hilarious: “Dime a dozen!/Special today!/A dime a dozen!/Take ‘em away!!”
- “Daisy Hill” wasn’t featured in the animated special in the late ‘80s that made me fall in love with this musical in the first place, which is a shame, because it’s definitely one of the better songs in the show. Even though it’s not the greatest song in the musical, this one, more than any other, sticks in my memory days—sometimes even weeks—after hearing it. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s the haunting, circling piano line that propels the melody as Snoopy longs for his former home, the titular puppy farm. What starts off as a simple country tune becomes something much more towards the end; when the kids join Snoopy as his backup singers, it’s almost sublime.
- “When Do the Good Things Start?” is simple and fun but not much more. It’s a perfectly serviceable filler song.
- Of course I’m going to be biased when a song is titled “The Great Writer.” I could really sympathize with Snoopy as he agonizes at his typewriter trying to find the perfect word (“It was a dark and stormy evening?/It was a dark and stormy night! Night? Right!”), though, this being the modern age and all, I use a computer. This song is epic, taking you through a full story’s worth of funny twists and turns—complete with sound effects!—with the occasional question or two from Charlie Brown, the critic: “What about the king?” Chalk up another solid track for this musical.
- I defy anyone not to tear up a little upon hearing “Poor Sweet Baby,” Peppermint Patty’s sentimental ode to her unrequited crush, Charlie Brown. This song is better heard than described, so here: “Poor Sweet Baby” on YouTube.
- “Don’t Be Anything Less Than Everything You Can Be” is a toe-tapping group singalong about the joys of reaching your full potential, as exemplified by the lyrics: “Don’t be a leaf if you can be the tree/Don’t be a raindrop if you can be the sea.” It’s actually good advice, and not just for kids. These are words to live by, set to a snappy show tune.
- “The Big Bow-Wow” is another showstopper and perfect vehicle for Snoopy’s tuneful showboating. In that way, it’s similar to the last musical’s “Suppertime” but with far superior lyrics and a stronger melody, which seems to be a pattern with this sequel.
- At last, we get to the finale, a song you’ve probably heard before. Look, I realize the philosophy behind “Just One Person” is not very healthy. After hearing it, my friend, who was a Psychology major, remarked that it was harmful to teach kids to wait for others to like you first before you believe in yourself, but I don’t care. As someone who grew up with very low self-esteem (and still suffers somewhat from it today), this song makes me cry, especially the last line, “Then maybe even you/can believe in you…too.” This song was recycled for the Jim Henson tribute on T.V. right after he passed, with all the Muppets singing this song together just before the debut of the new Kermit the Frog, whose voice was never right again (ugh). Anyway, it’s a superb song at least on par with the last musical’s standout track, “Happiness.”
So, if you’re keeping score, almost every song in this musical is good to great, with a few exceptions, so you know where my heart lies. I’ve heard it said that there were a few productions that combined the best songs of both musicals, but really, you only need to take “Snoopy,” “Suppertime,” and “Happiness” from “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” and cut a few songs from “Snoopy” to make the ultimate Charlie Brown musical. I hope one day that happens. I’ll be in the front row, cheering along Charlie and the gang.
P.S.: Next blog: Another major announcement—oh, the suspense!
P.P.S.: Danger Peak is now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble: