John Gordon was credited with the book of the show, but according to Gesner's foreword in the published script, John Gordon is a "collective pseudonym" that covers Gesner, the cast members, and the production staff, all of whom worked together to assemble the script.
During the early 1960s, Gesner had begun writing songs based on Schulz's Peanuts characters, but was unable to get permission from the United Features Syndicate to use the characters in his songs. Eventually Gesner sent Schulz a tape of some of the songs and Gesner soon had permission to record them, which he did in 1966. Orson Bean sang the role of Charlie Brown, Clark Gesner sang Linus, Barbara Minkus sang Lucy, and Bill Hinnant sang Snoopy (he reprised his role in the Off-Broadway production).
At the time, Gesner had no plans for a musical based on this pre-production "concept album". However, producer Arthur Whitelaw, who would later go on to write another musical based on Peanuts, encouraged Gesner to turn the album into a musical.
The stage adaptation of the concept album, entitled You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, went into rehearsal in New York City on February 10, 1967. Prior to its opening, the musical had no actual libretto; it was several vignettes with a musical number for each one.
On March 7, 1967, the musical premiered off-Broadway at Theatre 80 in the East Village, featuring Gary Burghoff as Charlie Brown, Skip Hinnant as Schroeder, Reva Rose as Lucy, Bob Balaban as Linus, Karen Johnson as Patty (an early Peanuts character not to be confused with Peppermint Patty), and Bill Hinnant as Snoopy. Joseph Hardy directed and choreographer Patricia Birch was billed as "Assistant to the Director". Joe Raposo, later of Sesame Street fame, was billed as "Music Director" and composer of incidental music for the show. This production of You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown lasted 1,597 performances, closing on February 14, 1971.
The off-Broadway cast recording was later remastered by Decca Broadway and re-released on September 31, 2000.
A Broadway production opened at the John Golden Theatre on June 1, 1971 and closed on June 27, 1971 after 32 performances and 15 previews. Directed by Joseph Hardy and with choreography by Patricia Birch, the new cast consisted of Carter Cole as Schroeder, Grant Cowan as Snoopy, Stephen Fenning as Linus, Liz O'Neal as Lucy, Dean Stolber as Charlie Brown, and Lee Wilson as Patty. In addition to the Broadway production, the success of the off-Broadway production spawned nine United States touring companies, playing in such cities as Chicago, Los Angeles, Altoona, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco. A 1970 U.S. tour lasted 202 performances on the road.
The musical opened in the West End in London on February 1, 1968, produced by Harold Fielding. It played at the Fortune Theatre for 116 performances.
A U.S. tour began on November 18, 1998, in Skokie, Illinois. The tour was expected to become a full-scale revival to open at the Longacre Theatre on Broadway, but was moved to the Ambassador Theatre after Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk's closing. This revival opened on February 4, 1999 and closed on June 13, 1999, having played only 14 previews and 149 performances. It featured new dialogue by Michael Mayer, who also directed, and additional songs and orchestration written by Andrew Lippa; choreography was by Jerry Mitchell and sets by David Gallo, Mayer's frequent collaborator.
In this revival, the character of Patty was replaced with Sally Brown. The cast featured Anthony Rapp as Charlie Brown and Ilana Levine as Lucy. Also featured were Kristin Chenoweth and Roger Bart as Sally and Snoopy, with each winning the Tony award in the respective category.
The original Broadway revival recording was released by RCA Victor on March 9, 1999.
On December 15, 2008, a one-night-only benefit performance of Charlie Brown was staged at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College in Manhattan for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, directed by David Lefkowich. The cast featured Morgan Karr as Charlie Brown, David Larsen as Schroeder, Tom Deckman as Snoopy, Matt Crowle as Linus, Carmen Ruby Floyd as Lucy, and Kenita R. Miller as Sally.
The York Theatre Company revived the musical Off-Broadway for an engagement lasting from May 24 through June 26, 2016. A cast recording of the production will be released on November 4, 2016.
Charlie Brown stands alone as his friends give their various opinions of him, each overlapping the other. Today everyone is calling him a "good man". Charlie Brown is happy and hopeful as usual, but he nevertheless wonders if he really is what they say. He decides to find out how he can really become a good person ("Opening/You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown").
Alone one day, during lunch, Charlie Brown talks about his bad days. Then he notices the Little Red-Haired Girl and decides to go sit with her. However, he cannot find the courage to do so.
Lucy expresses her deep infatuation with Schroeder and asks him what he thinks of the idea of marriage. Schroeder is aware of her feelings, but remains aloof as he plays his piano. Lucy then exclaims: "My Aunt Marion was right. Never try to discuss marriage with a musician" ("Schroeder"). Sally is sad because her jump rope tangled up.
Snoopy is lying on top of his doghouse, relaxing vacantly and peacefully. He begins to daydream about being a wild jungle beast. In a few minutes, however, he is back to his peaceful state ("Snoopy"). Linus enters, holding his blanket and sucking his thumb. Lucy and Sally show up and mock him for this habit. Linus decides to abandon his blanket and move on, only to come running back to it in desperation. After the girls leave, Linus daydreams of a blanket fantasy where everyone can relax with their blankets ("My Blanket and Me"). Lucy later tells him that she would someday like to be a queen. However, Linus tells her that she can't and she threatens to punch him. Sally gets a C for her pathetic coat-hanger sculpture.
Charlie Brown appears, trying to get his unusually stubborn kite to soar in the air. Eventually, he succeeds in doing this, and he enjoys a few minutes of triumph before the notorious Kite-Eating Tree eats it up ("The Kite"). After this trauma, Charlie Brown tries to find the right way to give The Little Red-Headed Girl her Valentine's Day card, but he ends up saying "Merry Christmas", making a fool out of himself. He goes to see Lucy, who is at her psychiatrist booth. He tells her all the things he thinks of himself. Lucy then clears it up by saying that Charlie Brown is unique the way he is, then asks for the five cent price ("The Doctor Is In"). Later, Charlie Brown sees a happy Schroeder spreading the word of Beethoven's birthday and pulling together a celebration. He and company join Schroeder in the song of jubilation ("Beethoven Day").
At noon, Linus, Lucy, Schroeder, and Charlie Brown are working on their Peter Rabbit book reports, each in his or her own way. Lucy is simply babbling to fit the 100-word requirement, Schroeder is doing a "comparison" between the book and Robin Hood, Linus is doing an overcomplicated psychological analysis, and Charlie Brown hasn't even started out of worry, while Sally and Snoopy chase rabbits ("The Book Report").
Snoopy, in his World War I flying ace uniform climbs atop his doghouse. He goes through a scene, with him being a pilot searching for the Red Baron. In his imagination, he is defeated by the Red Baron and returns to the aerodrome in France.
Sally is clearly cross about a D her teacher gave her on her homework assignment. In response, she says, "Oh, yeah? That's what you think!" Schroeder hears and asks why Sally is telling him that. It quickly becomes Sally's new "philosophy", and she bursts into song about her philosophies. Schroeder, after failing to explain to her how philosophies work, leaves in bafflement while Sally continues ("My New Philosophy").
Charlie Brown returns, and, with his friends, plays the Little League Baseball Championship. After some mishaps, the team finally manages to make some progress. Charlie Brown steps up to the plate, and despite his valiant efforts, strikes out and loses the game. We learn that this was a flashback, and Charlie Brown expresses his deep sorrow to his pen pal ("T-E-A-M (The Baseball Game)"). Lucy takes a crabbiness survey and Linus says that her crabbiness rating is ninety-five. After punching him, she realizes that she, in reality, is really very crabby.
Determined not to let what happened at the championship bother him, Charlie Brown decides to join Schroeder's Glee Club and cheer up by singing "Home on the Range" with his friends. Unfortunately, a fight ensues between Lucy and Linus over a pencil. The fight spreads, and Charlie Brown decides to leave with his angry friends, leaving Schroeder and Snoopy the only ones singing ("Glee Club Rehearsal").
Later, Charlie Brown comes across Lucy teaching Linus about nature the way she views it with such as bugs pulling the grass to make it grow or snow growing out of the ground in winter. Charlie Brown tries to correct her, but she retaliates with a false explanation, and Charlie Brown bangs his head against a tree in frustration ("Little Known Facts"). That evening, Snoopy complains that he hasn't been fed yet, and begins to overcomplicate and dramaticize the matter until Charlie Brown shows up with his dinner. Snoopy bursts into song about his craving for supper until Charlie Brown firmly tells him to eat his meal ("Suppertime").
That night, Charlie Brown is still sad that he has not discovered what it means to be a "good man", then he discovers a pencil which has been dropped by the Little Red-Haired Girl (his perennial crush). As he examines it, he discovers that "there are teeth-marks all over it . . . she nibbles her pencil . . . she's HUMAN!" With that realization, he concludes that today hasn't been so bad, after all, and he's done a lot of things that make him happy. As Charlie Brown expresses what makes him happy, everyone, touched by his love of life, begin to express what makes them happy as well ("Happiness"). Right then, he realizes being a "good man" means trying your best and making the most of the things you've been given in life. As his other friends leave the stage, Lucy turns to him and puts out her hand, making him shrink back. As he reaches out, she shakes his hand firmly, then tells him, "You're a good man, Charlie Brown."Song list for the 1967 off-Broadway production
Song list for the 1999 Broadway revival
Song List from the 1966 Concept Album:
The instrumentation varies greatly and three kinds exist. In the original Off-Broadway production, the instrumentation was simply a piano, a bass, and percussion. It can be heard on the original cast recording.
When Tams-Witmark acquired the rights to Charlie Brown, the orchestration was rewritten from the original version. In the original Broadway production, the complete orchestration contained a piano, bass, guitar, percussion, five woodwind parts, two trumpets, horn, trombone, and strings. The piano player can also be doubled on celeste, toy piano, and melodica; the first woodwind plays flute and piccolo; the second is the second flute part; the third and fourth are the first and second clarinet parts respectively; the fifth on bass clarinet and tenor sax. Any guitar, horn, and string parts (excluding bass) were all optional.
When Charlie Brown was brought back to Broadway in 1999, the orchestration was deeply revised, containing a five-piece orchestra which consists of a piano, bass, percussion, a woodwind player, and a violinist. The piano player can double on keyboard synthesizer and kazoo; the bass player doubles on electric and acoustic bass, tenor recorder, and kazoo (in the original Broadway pit the bass player also doubled on acoustic and electric guitar); the woodwind part doubles on piccolo, flute, clarinet, soprano and alto sax, soprano recorder, and kazoo; the violin part also doubles on viola, alto recorder, kazoo, and tambourine. This version is also available through Tams-Witmark.
Note: The character of "Sally" was added in the 1999 revival, replacing "Patty" from the original version.
Articles about the 1999 revision while it was in previews noted that the one difference between the original production and the 1999 version was that the latter reflected the increased ethnic diversity of casting over the decades that had passed, with Schroeder being played by an African American actor (Mathis) and Linus by an Asian American (Wong).
The off-Broadway production was well received, with The Village Voice praising the simplistic set and "strikingly talented" cast. Walter Kerr in The New York Times called the show "a miracle", saying, "Almost everything works, because almost everything is effortless."
In reviewing the 1999 revival, Playbill's Steven Suskin found it "overblown and underwhelming. The scenic and musical enhancements were especially harmful, it seemed to me; the unassuming, child-size characters were overwhelmed . . . Which is not to say that the 1999 music department did a bad job; it's simply that the concept of a big, new 'You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown' worked against the inherent qualities of the material." In The New York Times, Ben Brantley wrote a lukewarm review:
The real problem is a matter of scale . . . there's an uncomfortable feeling of dead air that the cast must work much too hard to fill . . . Songs that were created as droll, low-key character portraits have been reconceived as showstoppers, and the frail, winsome little bodies of these numbers just aren't up to the job. When Linus sings a duet with his famous security blanket, which has been wired to dance on its own, the sequence has a flailing, improvised quality that is the stuff of actors' nightmares.
Brantley did praise some of the cast, saying, "Kristin Chenoweth's performance as Sally will be the part that should seal her reputation. This glow cast by a star-in-the-making gives a real Broadway magic to a show that otherwise feels sadly shrunken . . . And Roger Bart, in the plum role of Snoopy, the charismatic beagle, incorporates some delightful doglike mannerisms."
In 1973, the show was adapted for television in a Hallmark Hall of Fame TV special, broadcast on NBC. Actors featured in the adaptation included original 1967 cast member Bill Hinnant as Snoopy. Hinnant was the only member of the original off-Broadway cast to reprise their role in the special.
CBS aired a new prime-time animated TV special in 1985, based on the original musical. This version was the first animated depiction of Snoopy with comprehensible dialogue, voiced by Robert Towers, who previously portrayed the role in the 1967 Los Angeles production alongside Burghoff as Charlie Brown and Judy Kaye as Lucy.
Original cast albums have been released for all three versions of the stage show, however the 1973 Hallmark Hall of Fame recording on Atlantic Records is no longer in print.