“Charlie Brown must be the one who suffers because he’s a caricature of the average person. Most of us are much more acquainted with losing than winning. Winning is great, but it isn’t funny.” — Charles Schulz
In a sense, creator Charles Schulz was Charlie Brown. Schulz’ high school yearbook rejected his first cartoon drawings. Similar to Charlie, Schulz’ father was a barber. He had a dog, though a pointer rather than a beagle. Charlie’s unrequited love for the red-haired girl mirrored Schulz’ own rejection by his first love.
About 70 years after his creation and about 20 years after Schulz’ death, Charlie Brown is as alive as ever. Schulz insisted no one else would draw the newspaper cartoon strip, so today, the Daily Journal, similar to many other newspapers, still reruns classic “Peanuts,” drawn years ago by Schulz.
“Peanuts” has generated television specials for years, eight since Schulz’s death. The 2015 computer-animated “Peanuts” film grossed $246 million.
Acting Out Theatre Co. is set to present “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” a musical, first performed in 1967, that has adults perform the children’s roles. Gary Burghoff, Radar on the hit television show “MASH,” was the original Charlie Brown.
The Daily Journal caught up with Kaleb Miller, Acting Out’s Charlie Brown, to discuss his role as the famous character, environmental theater and the popularity of Peanuts.
Are you looking forward to the role?
People say I have a lot in common with Charlie Brown. They tell me, “You are going to be perfect.” I’m not offended by that. I’m kind of honored. Like Charlie, I tend to be positive, even when things look sour. Even if I fail, I’m not going to let that define who I am going forward.
Also like Charlie, I love my friends and love people, even when they show doubts. Friends and people are the center of my world.
How did you get your start in theater?
I was in the high school band. I played the trumpet. Friends thought I should audition, so I did. It turned out I really enjoyed it. I continued with the band and was drum major junior and senior years in high school, but theater became a great interest.
What’s been your favorite part to portray?
Davey in “Newsies” because he was the one who encouraged others. He was also the “brains” of the newsboys, the one who demanded equal pay and was always trying to rally the troops. I guess I like rallying the troops.
Acting Out performs outdoor theater. How does that affect what you do?
It’s my first time performing outdoors. It’s special. We can rehearse one day and it’s sunny, and the next day, it will be rainy. Acting Out takes environmental theater to the next level.
What is the message of Charlie Brown?
We all think true happiness requires something elaborate and expensive, but true happiness is simple. It’s baseball, the love of the red-haired girl, two scoops of ice cream and hiving five crayons.
Why is Peanuts still so popular?
Because it is so relatable. We connect with Charlie Brown and with his community. He is hopelessly optimistic, although he often does not get what he wants. That’s life.
This is a show that has adults playing the roles of children. How is that different?
It’s kind of fun. It is different because an 8-year-old walks, talks and reacts in a different way than an adult would. I am working on walking like a child.
What does the show say about adults learning from children?
That it is OK to fail. You fail. You keep trying and move on. That’s sort of the lesson with baseball. You swing and miss and try again. Even as adults, we need to remind ourselves of that.
So, baseball is a metaphor for life?
Here’s another lesson from baseball. You need everyone if you really are going to succeed. It’s a team. All hands must be on deck if we want to function. We are a community.
How about Snoopy and the Red Baron?
I’m still learning about the Red Baron. But the entire sequence is about the importance of dreams and imagination. The world of make-believe starts with children.
Do you have dreams of going further in the theater?
Well, you would never say “no” to a larger role. In the back of my mind, I would love to have the opportunity to put a foot in the door in Chicago.
Any final comments?
Come out to the show. We have a great cast. It’s our own little family. It’s a great show for all ages. It’s nostalgic. It’s funny. It will make you teary-eyed. You’ll love it.
Is Charlie Brown ever going to get to kick that football?
He’s a hopeless optimist. Well, he’s got to keep trying.