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Theater

Geneva musical 'Charlie Brown' a first at Playhouse 38

Meredith Vandre of St. Charles, Nicole Burke of Elburn on creative team

“You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” will be presented at Playhouse 38 in Geneva, starring Anna Pankoke ((back row from left as Lucy), Maeve Olechowski (Charlie Brown) and Kaelin Baird (Linus); and in the front row from left, Will Vandre (Schroeder), Lucy Webster (Sally) and Quinn Beier (Snoopy).
“You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” will be presented at Playhouse 38 in Geneva, starring Anna Pankoke ((back row from left as Lucy), Maeve Olechowski (Charlie Brown) and Kaelin Baird (Linus); and in the front row from left, Will Vandre (Schroeder), Lucy Webster (Sally) and Quinn Beier (Snoopy).

GENEVA – The 50th anniversary production of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” will break new ground for Playhouse 38 in Geneva, showcasing advanced students in an ensemble cast of six.

Bringing her creative touch to the youth production is Meredith Vandre of St. Charles, formerly of Geneva, who has directed the young people’s program for the past four years, as well as working in the professional theater world.

She said her love of theater began when she was in the fourth grade and enrolled in a Fox Valley Park District course, which offered affordable training.

“The park districts, in general, bring so much to the communities,” Vandre said. “As soon as I was able to, I started volunteering with the park district for summer stage. I went to Northern Illinois University for music [she plays guitar, bass guitar, piano, flute, oboe, clarinet and saxophone], and quickly decided to add some theater. I transferred to Columbia College [in Chicago], and got a degree in theater. I started working with park districts, [beginning] with Schaumburg and then moved to the Geneva Park District.”

Rehearsals have been underway since early June, and the actors will use set pieces rented from Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace, which just closed “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” a production on which Vandre worked.

She is a carpenter for the automation team at Drury Lane’s Theatre for Young Audiences and a substitute for its main-stage shows, as well. The team operates motorized elements of the stage and set that move, such as turntables.

She invited her Playhouse 38 cast to catch the Drury Lane musical put on by adult performers.

“They all came to see it with their parents,” she said. “They were super excited to get to use [all] the things they saw and got to meet some of the actors.”

She said the Geneva youth productions draw many participants, which normally results in double casting the roles.

“That’s part of the reason we tried to do ‘Charlie Brown’ to get some of the kids a higher level experience,” she said. “All of the kids cast have worked in the past with me on several shows.”

Auditions were overseen by Vandre and Nicole Burke of Elburn.

“She does choreography for me for all my musicals [and] she’s my … assistant director – for nonmusicals [too],” Vandre said.

The “Charlie Brown” cast features Kaelin Baird, Quinn Beier, Maeve Olechowski, Anna Pankoke, Will Vandre and Lucy Webster, who range in ages from 10 to 13. Will is Vandre’s son and was the sole performer to audition for the role of Schroeder.

“The show is written just like a comic strip – it doesn’t have a flow, a story like other plays have,” Vandre said. “It has a whole bunch of little tiny scenes in their lives – just like reading the ‘Peanuts’ comic strip.”

She said having no story arc poses challenges in having to remember what comes next.

“My favorite part of the play is when we sing the song ‘Glee Club [Rehearsal],’ because it is humorous and all the characters’ personalities come through in the song,” Lucy Webster, who plays Sally, said in a news release. “People should definitely come see ‘You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,’ because it is very funny and it is not a ‘junior show’ as we typically do.”

The Playhouse 38 youth program is for kids ages 7 to 17. Vandre said if there are slightly younger children with older siblings who participate, she’s made age exceptions because they can rehearse together at home.

Parents lend a hand in many ways, including Amy Hogan of Geneva, who takes photographs of the cast for the printed programs, as well as closeup cast photos during dress rehearsal as keepsakes for families. Other parents help with monitoring kids backstage, scene changes, set building and painting and technical elements.

Vandre said the program offers productions year-round. A new tech assistant class will debut in the fall, in which participants will apply the skills they gain on shows.

Vandre also leads choir programs for the Park District – one in the fall with a Halloween theme and spooky songs, and a holiday choir singing wintry favorites and Christmas songs, Vandre said, adding she’d like to add to the numbers of the “small but mighty choirs.”

Traci Wicks, the Park District’s director of marketing and public relations, noted the next youth production auditions will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. Aug. 20 to 22 for the fall’s zombie-influenced “The Walking Dwarves.” The holidays will offer a production of “Tiny Tim’s Christmas,” with auditions Oct. 29 and 30. Playhouse 38 is the cultural arts facility of the Geneva Park District. Wicks said these shows and all the other performance-related offerings will be detailed in the Geneva Park District brochure going online July 25.

If you go

WHAT: “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown”

WHEN: 7 p.m. July 19 and 3 and 7 p.m. July 20

WHERE: Playhouse 38, 321 Stevens St., suite P at rear of building, Geneva

COST: $10

INFO: Tickets at genevaparks.org or at Stephen Persinger Recreation Center and Sunset Community Center; 630-232-4542

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