Why do I remember the specific date of July 13, 1985?
It was the day of Live Aid, the concert where I first discovered Mick Jagger and therefore began a new chapter in my life right after this one ended.
Sad, but true. For behold: July 13, 1985 was the day Charlie Brown died.
No, not the comic strip – Sparky Schulz would keep on drawing the Peanuts gang in original adventures for another decade and a half. But it was the last time I would ever take the stage as Schroeder, and, indeed, the last time I would ever appear in this show in any role ever again.
By the summer of 1985, I’m surprised the show was still limping along. Stallion and Snoopy were the only original cast members left, and I don’t think we had mounted a full version of the show in well over a year. I was gratified, however, that My Esteemed Colleague had been recruited into the cast at this point in the role of Linus, which made rehearsals far more fun – and nonproductive, but in a good way. Everyone had lost interest in the enterprise, but nobody seemed willing to pull the plug.
I recall an attempt to mount the show at the Los Angeles Children’s Museum somewhere near this time, but the museum demanded that the show run continuously throughout the day with no announced beginning or end time. This made no sense, so we abandoned doing the show in the middle of the first performance and started improvising instead. I took to the keyboard and played mysterious-sounding background music whilst My Esteemed Colleague made up disturbing fairy tales on the spot. It was wildly imaginative and a lot of fun, but it had nothing to do with Charlie Brown.
On July 13, 1985, we took this reckless abandon to its logical, turgid conclusion as we took the stage to perform You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown at a senior citizen’s center somewhere in the San Fernando Valley.
Our longtime director didn’t bother to show, so the guy in charge was someone we barely knew. I had wanted to spend the day planted in front of the television watching the Live Aid performances, but, no, I had to go be Schroeder for a bunch of folks who may or may not have already been dead. As we finished the opening number and sang, “You could be king, Charlie Brown/You could be king,” we expected some acknowledgment that we had just done something, but what we got was silence. Complete silence. No half-hearted applause, no titters, no raspberries. Just an eerie, old-people silence.
We kept going, and we got the same response. So I began to experiment, and not in a good way. It was the musical theatre equivalent of mad science.
I had one bit early in the show where I come out and talk about how Beethoven loved nature and would take long walks to view the countryside. Knowing that I could have spoken Norwegian and gotten the same response, I decided to ramble on about the power and majesty of rock and roll, and how I was missing Live Aid, and how that sucked, and how all of us should be watching it. It threw our new Lucy off, because she wasn’t sure when her cue to say “give me that ball, you blockhead” was supposed to come. I didn’t much care, and, really, nobody else did, either. With that act of rebellion, the floodgates opened, and everyone started to ignore the script and pontificate about whatever they felt like. At one point, I found a bunch of Martian-style deelybopper antennae backstage, and I brought them out for the glee club number and made everyone wear a pair.
After that, most of us decided to stop going on stage altogether.
I’m not sure when it was that we left Snoopy out there all on her own, and she started to complain that she was the only one taking the whole thing seriously, and we just made faces at her from the wings. Nobody came to rescue her. So, for reasons I can only begin to fathom, she started to sing “Let It Be,” and I helpfully came out and accompanied her on the piano. We tried to get the geezers to join in a singalong, but I think they were too busy decomposing. But that’s my final memory of the show – Snoopy on her doghouse, and me at the piano banging out Beatles tunes, and a bunch of silent coots with their faces buried in their soup.
A sad, sad way to go.
I wish it hadn’t been that way. Ten years later, when I was running a theatre in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, I had this wild fantasy that I would reunite the original cast from 1982 and that we’d take the stage for one last hurrah. It never happened. It probably never will. But wouldn’t it be fun if twenty years from now, when we’re all in our sixties, we could ditch the grandchildren and find a stage somewhere and bring the whole show out of mothballs?
Zowie. What a blast that would be.
So stay tuned for the Charlie Brown Chronicles Volume VIII, coming to this blog circa 2031.