When the Los Angeles Children’s Choir finally decided to mount a full-fledged production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown in 1982, I was a shoe-in for the lead. I’d been playing the title role in my Rex Harrison’s Baseball Game solo for over a year, and I was, you know, due. So when the auditions came, everyone assumed I’d get the top spot. At least, I assumed that everyone assumed I would get the top spot. So when they posted the cast list, I was not surprised to see my name, but I was very surprised – shocked, even – to see where my name was.
They didn’t cast me as Charlie Brown.
I looked further down the list and saw my name. Apparently, I was Schroeder.
To me, Schroeder was an afterthought. He was the Sweathog who replaced Barbarino; he was Chuck Cunningham or Pete Best; he was the fourth Ghostbuster. Schroeder was nobody’s favorite. He had no funny lines or memorable scenes. He was and is the Aquaman of the Peanuts Superfriends.
And suddenly, my Charlie Brown dreams had been shot down over a sea of Schroederdom.
It didn’t help that the lead role when to Patrick, a great guy who was perfect for the part. I couldn’t even muster up enough of a grudge to resent him. All I could do was resign myself to my lot and be the best darn Schroeder I could be. Which, of course, sucked.
The casting choices were remarkably progressive, all things considered. Lucy was blonde and Linus was black, which was a fairly enlightened example of color-blind casting for 1982. In addition, Snoopy was a girl, which balanced out the cast at three dudes and three chicks – except the cast had about thirty people in it.
How did this happen, you say?
Well, they had two casts – the “tall cast” and the “small cast.” (I was about thirteen feet taller than anyone else, so you can guess which cast I ended up in.) That brought the number up to 12. Then they double-cast Lucy in the tall cast, bringing the number up to 13.
Then they added the “ensemble.”
The play didn’t call for an ensemble – it’s a very intimate six-person piece. But the L.A. Children’s Choir had about seventy-five members, all of whom wanted to be in the show. So, in order to accommodate the tuition fees of a dozen more parents, they added a bevy of onlookers who cluttered up the stage with nothing to do except sing along during the group numbers. That almost worked in the big showstoppers like “The Baseball Game” and “The Book Report,” but when Charlie Brown was singing to his Lucy as his psychiatrist in “The Doctor Is In,” you had to wonder why all these extra people were sitting around and listening in. And when Charlie Brown tries to fly a kite in a singular, personal moment of triumph and despair, why were twenty of his closest friends cheering him on? How could this guy be such a loser with so many sycophants?
As for me, all I could do was try and find some way to stand out. I managed to accomplish this by means of really, really good simulated piano playing. As Schroeder performed Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” while Lucy sang to him about getting married and buying saucepans, I perfectly mimed each note with precision and plenty of snooty panache. In fact, if gayness were environmental and not inborn, I would have have drained myself of all my heterosexuality by the last performance.
I knew I had succeeded when a couple of old ladies came backstage to shake all our hands. They were lavish in their praise. “Oh, Charlie Brown – you were just perfect!” they gushed. “Snoopy, you were adorable – you stole the show!” “Oh, my goodness, Linus, you were so funny! I couldn’t stop laughing!”
And then they turned to me.
“You know,” they said with strained smiles, “it really looked like you were playing the piano up there.”
Schroeder. Damn him. Nobody collects Aquaman comic books, you know.*
*And that was true even on July 13, 1985. (Foreshadowing abounds.)