Insightful and hilarious. Those are the words I would use to describe the pair of directors, director Freddy Tan and assistant director William Yap, behind SIFU Production’s latest offering, You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.
Set in the beloved world of Peanuts created by Charles M. Schulz, the musical comedy will bring iconic characterssuch as Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, Sally, Shroeder, and a beagle named Snoopy to life.
During an interview session with August Man, the duo was asked about the challenges in adapting the musical, their dynamic with the cast, and most importantly, what they hope audiences take away from the musical.
Director Freddy Tan & Assistant Director William Yap
As we know, “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” is based on the characters created by cartoonist Charles M. Shulz in his popular comic strip, Peanuts. How was it like to adapt something so beloved to the theatre?
Freddy: Well, it’s a two-part answer. The first part of it is that it’s actually not hard because it’s already written. It’s a Broadway musical that was written back in 1967. It was later revised in 1999. The version that we’re doing is the 1999 version. In a way when I say it’s easy, it’s because we have so many references. We can base on the show, as well as the comics, there are so many references, so that’s the easy part. The hard part being, a lot of the references are mainly done in the West. When it’s going to be done by Malaysians, of course there’s a few questions that we are going to ask ourselves. Are we going to present it as it is, or are we going to localize it? I’m telling you right now that we’re not localizing it, because we want the audience to experience the authenticity of the story. it may be presented by Malaysians, but we are presenting it as close as we can to the script.
William: In addition, Charlie and Snoopy are iconic characters. There’s a certain level of understanding on how the story goes. There’s a certain way that the story was presented in their stories. Whether it’s in the comics, or the movies, there’s a certain way that the story is presented. We thought it was best to keep the essence of these characters along with the story.
What’s challenging in bringing this script to life?
Freddy: To me, one of the main thing that I agree upon with William as well the cast is, one of the main direction that we aim for is to translate a comic to a musical. When you bring something that’s from a specific medium to another, people will be like, can it be done? But the thing is, to me, I believe in the repertoire, the history. You may argue that it has been done many times in the States doesn’t mean it’ll work here. But to me, one of the reasons why it can be done so many times, is because of the themes that the story presents, they are universal and timeless. Even though we’re in Malaysia, I believe if you present it to an audience in Jakarta, or Cambodia, they should be able to understand as long as they understand the language.
William: One of the challenges that we face is recreating the era that the story is written in. We are not changing the setting of the story. We are bringing the audience back in time. We are bringing the audience back to 1999. Even our props and sets are also built according to that direction. So that’s one of the challenges that we faced.
How was the dynamic between you and the cast?
Freddy: For me personally, whenever I direct a show, I’d like to keep the process collaborative. I’m not the type of director that’s like “this is what I want” or “take three steps and then –”, no, because that’ll be like a film director. But for me I prefer more of an organic approach.
William: A puppet show. [laughs]
Freddy: I allow them to explore. I believe in the talents that we have. Where they have their own imagination. Sometimes when they research into their characters, they are researching from their own perspectives. So, they may have a better understanding of the characters than I do. As a director, I have to look from a bigger picture, so there are certain details that they are the best people to ask. I’d say that the dynamic is pretty collaborative. I also want to make sure that we are working as a team.
William: We always welcome the creativity of the actors.
In your opinion, what are the elements of a good musical?
William: When it comes to what makes a good musical I tend to view it from an audience’s point of view. When I pay a fee to a musical, I expect great music. It’s a musical for a reason.
Freddy: It’s not a theatre with songs. [laughs]
William: Secondly, it’s about the dynamic or the energy of the actors. And lastly, it’s about the production value of the musical.
Freddy: For me, apart from what William just said, is the capability of how a show tells its story via songs. I feel like with a lot of the musical, the acting may be great, but when they start to sing, I start to lose them. Most musicals, when they write the songs, they don’t push the story. They don’t progress the story. The songs are meant to enhance the emotions and connections. If they fail to connect with the audience, they just sound beautiful without actually meaning anything.
What do you hope the audience take away from this musical?
William: When you experience the story as it unfolds on stage, you’ll see the story of what happens to Charlie Brown and his friends in the span of days. However, if you’re an adult, you’ll be able to see the intention behind the story and the characters. The purity and honesty. Because, they are kids, and when they answer questions that are raised, it’s very unfiltered and pure. That’s something that we strive for in today’s complicated world.
Freddy: That’s one of the first question that I ask my cast after our first read. Usually, I’d like to ask them, as well as the creative team, what audience effect do you wish to achieve. Audience effect means that, the moment when an audience finishes a show, what do they take back. To me, one of the things that I feel like it’s relevant, is Charlie’s goal to constantly look for assurance, happiness. If by the end of the show audience can embrace the themes, feel the warmth, that’s enough for me. [laughs] If there’s a physical equivalent of that is when they come out of the show, they feel like hugging someone. If I can see a kid hugging his/her parents outside the theatre, then I feel like I’ve succeeded.
The show will be running from 29 – 30 Sep, 1 Oct, 3 – 8 Oct @ 8:30pm, 30 Sep, 1 Oct, 7 – 8 Oct @ 3:00pm at Damansara Performing Arts Centre. Call +603 4065 0001 (DPAC); +6013 3245 444 (SIFU) or purchase your tickets at www.dpac.com.my/page/ticket/bookTicket/view/725.html