BY JENNIFER SOLIS
---- — WEST NEWBURY – Good Grief! Charles Schulz’s beloved Peanuts gang takes center stage this weekend in a summer stock-style production of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.”With music and lyrics by Clark Gesner, the Tony award winning show follows a year in the lives of Charlie and friends. Performances in the Pentucket Regional High School auditorium are Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 1 p.m. Tickets at the door are $5.
Part of the Pentucket Community Education’s Sunsational Summer programming, the show is directed by Pentucket alumni Melissa Bowden and Cassie Pacenka —both from the Class of 2012 — with musical direction by Jonathan Acorn, Class of 2013. Acorn’s classmate, Eddie Gaudet, is handling sound effects.
All three directors were heavily involved in the theater program while at Pentucket, but this marks their directorial debut of a full-length play. Before graduating, Gaudet was the percussionist for the high school’s award-winning Jazz Combo.
Bowden is currently an English major at UMass–Amherst, and Pacenka is studying media communications and film at Pace University — Westchester. This fall Acorn begins studying musical theater at Emerson College and Gaudet joins Bowden out in Amherst to study English and Music.
For the past three weeks, Acorn, who also plays the title role in the show, was joined by an ensemble cast of nine middle and high school actors from Pentucket and other schools in the Greater Newburyport area. He describes Bowden and Pacenka as “wicked organized” — an important characteristic given that the rehearsal times were limited to three hours per day.
The first-time directors had to hurdle their share of roadblocks even before the rehearsal process began. As alumni of the Pentucket theater program, Bowden and Pacenka had assumed they would be able to access the theater department’s costumes, sets, and prop closet. But shortly before rehearsals began in late June, they learned this would not be the case. Undaunted, the young women rolled up their sleeves and got to work. With help from Pacenka’s mother, Sharon, they designed and built their own scenery, then hauled out the sewing machines and hit the local thrift stores to pull together on a tight budget all the finishing touches their cast members needed to bring their characters to life for the community.
“It’s been stressful and crazy — but rewarding at the same time,” said Pacenka.
From loudmouth Lucy’s (Kayla Pacenka) infatuation with piano-prodigy Schoeder (Cooper Slack), to the blanket-obsessed Linus (Noah Malonson) and the Linus-obsessed Sally (Julia Marcheterre), to the World War I Flying Ace, a.k.a. Snoopy (Meg Perry) these characters really haven’t changed since their inception by Schulz back in October 1950. In today’s fast paced world, the play’s focus on the wonderment and worries of childhood offers something comforting for both the young and the young at heart.
Other members of the ensemble cast include Ashley Cunha as Woodstock/ Frieda; Maire Hughes as Marcie; Anna Marcheterre as Peppermint Patty; and Justin Andrew Peavey as Pig Pen.
Bowden said they chose the play because it was an ensemble piece that gives every actor a moment to shine.
“We wanted everyone to feel they were important and were a part of this,” she said, then added with a smile, “plus it’s a fun show for the community.”
For those who grew up reading Peanuts comics or watching the Gang’s classic holiday specials — or for anyone who believes “happiness is singing together when day is through and happiness is those who sing with you” — Pentucket High School is the place to be this weekend.