Ask An Insider: What It Takes To Bring Broadway's Charlie Brown Musical To Town
Executive producer, Siti Farrah Abdullah of SIFU Productions, shares how she brought the award-winning Charlie Brown play to Malaysia from September 29 to October 8.
Nothing can replace the fond memories of growing up with our beloved cartoon characters. They were our first childhood companions whose quirks and quips left a lingering impression, well into adulthood.
One such cartoon character with those qualities is Charlie Brown, the ‘loveable loser’ of the long-running comic strip, Peanuts. Adored for his nonchalant, yo-yoing attitude, he has long been fêted in a popular Broadway play, You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown, that’s making its way to Kuala Lumpur come September 29 to October 8, 2017.
It was only a matter of time that the production came to our shores – helmed by SIFU Production’s executive producer Siti Farrah Abullah and her co-executive producer Safia Hanifah. Sensing an opportune time, the pair took the plunge. “This was a musical with timeless themes that would be relatable to Malaysians of all ages. We spoke about it for a few years,” Siti Farrah explained, on bringing in the award-winning musical.
To stage the international classic locally, Siti Farrah was tasked with several requirements and guidelines to obtain rights to the show, including upholding the play’s authenticity, and nailing the iconic costumes. While she admitted it wasn’t a complicated process, the zealous producer smoothened the process by planning ahead and careful casting for the Peanuts characters, among some.
Curious about the process, we spoke to Siti Farrah for a first-hand of what it's like to successfully bring in a beloved classic like You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown, to Damansara Performing Arts Centre.
What were the vital processes and guidelines required of you by the licensor?
The most important processes were getting the rights and venue for the performance. We obtained the rights from Tams-Witmark Music Library Inc. – a premier licensor of classic Broadway musicals who also gave us guidelines to the copyrights, publicity and usage of materials, amongst other things, as well as rights to the script, music, and so on. We also had to speak to Peanuts Worldwide to obtain the rights to utilize some of their images and stock visuals.
How easy was it to bring the show in?
Obtaining the rights to produce the show was pretty straightforward. We began by contacting the licensor via an official email, and were then prompted to fill up a few forms with details such as performance dates and number of shows. A couple of clarification emails later and the application was approved!
What were your main challenges in making this acclaimed play as authentic as possible?
To preserve the authenticity of the script, music and characters. With that in mind, all creative elements must reflect that objective across all aspects, from the visual department; for set design, lighting design, projection design, casting; to ensure they have not just the talent but also convey Peanuts characters’, as well as publicity and graphics.
We are not localising the musical by adding any Malaysian elements per se, but rather finding the best devices to transport the audiences from a theatre in Empire Damansara to the world of Charlie Brown & Friends.
What about the challenges with selecting the cast and crew for these beloved characters?
We knew whom we wanted from the get-go. The only challenge was not being able to get whom we wanted because of clashes in their schedules. We are very grateful for such a powerful and strong team of cast and crew.
How big a role did the set and costume designs play to realise this play?
The costumes are as iconic as their characters. We try to honour the costumes and make them as original as possible. Due to the nature of this musical, we had to make the costumes flexible and highlight the colours, so that the actors were not only mobile, but the costumes also shine on stage.
As for the set, our aim was to create a stage consistent with the world of Charlie Brown. The style and design is inspired by the Peanuts comic strips, featuring elements such as heavy comic outlines, vibrant colours and some surprises. The set is elaborate yet clean enough to provide enough physical and creative space for the performers.
How is the Malaysian version different to the western one? Does it evolve over time?
Unlike many of the past performances where the timeline of the play is set in the 60s-70s, we are setting ours in the mid 90s. Since we are staging the 1999 revised version of You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown, we intend to unearth and explore the era and present that nostalgia to older folks; and for the younger audience to see that it doesn’t matter what generation you are from, some things always stay the same.
What measures were taken to ensure the musical would run as smoothly as possible?
Early planning was key but as the nature of productions, things change by the minute and you have to be ready to adapt and be flexible. As the executive producer I manage the operations side of things, while the director manages the creative side of things. Hiring the right people was another crucial factor. We all work as a team, be it creative or operations, and try to communicate as effectively as possible.
You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown musical will be staged from September 29 to October 8, 2017 at Damansara Performing Arts Centre (DPAC). For inquiries or reservations, visit dpac.com.my or call 03-4065 0001.
Photo credits: Raisa Azzam
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