Boisterous “Charlie Brown” Cast at Moline’s Spotlight Loves Being Back on Stage
Happiness is…getting back to doing a major musical at the Spotlight Theatre after far too long.
Nearly 16 months after staging its last musical, “The Wedding Singer,” the Spotlight (1800 7th Ave., Moline) will open the beloved “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” on Friday, June 4. It’s especially meaningful for Ian Sodawasser – who premiered in Spotlight’s first show, in October 2018, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” and directed his first show with “Wedding Singer” in February 2020.
“It’s a dream role,” he said Monday of playing Snoopy for the Peanuts musical, who goes crazy with joy in the show’s “Suppertime.” Sodawasser played Schroeder in 2013 in a college production, in Culver-Stockton College, Canton, Mo.
His last Q-C stage role was Frank N. Furter in “The Rocky Horror Show” in October 2019. Sodawasser is glad to finally be back on stage, but said he started a little rusty.
“I kind of got used to not doing anything for a year, theater-wise,” he said Monday. “It’s been a lot of fun. I’m glad things are reopening and we’re going back.”
The entire “Charlie Brown” cast is:
Charlie Brown: Noah Hill
Snoopy: Ian Sodawasser
Schroeder: Adam Sanders
Lucy: Amelia Fischer
Sally: Bethany Sanders
Linus: Gary Mayfield
Peppermint Patty: Molly Ahern
Marcie: Rachel Winter
Frieda: Bella Kuta
Re-run: Brennan Hampton
Violet: Elena Vallejo
Pigpen: Keegan Walker
Woodstock: Taylor Tubbs
Directed by Spotlight co-owner Brent Tubbs, this production adds a number of the secondary “Peanuts” characters, not typically in the 1967 show – revived on Broadway in 1999 and done in 2017 at Moline’s Black Box Theatre. While the ensemble characters don’t have speaking lines, they add their voices to about a half dozen of the group songs, Tubbs said.
“It creates a wall of sound,” he said. “This show is awesome, so adding those voices, it really rounds it all out.”
The ensemble actors range from early 20s to Tubbs’ 12-year-old daughter Taylor, who plays Woodstock. “She’s the umpire in the baseball game,” he said. “We just found fun ways we can sprinkle them into the show, without changing the script.”
The last musical Tubbs directed was Spotlight’s “Big” (starring Sodawasser) in April 2019.
“It’s like, that first music rehearsal, to hear people singing again, it was just incredible,” he said of “Charlie Brown.” “When they start dancing
and you add these elements we haven’t seen for over a year, gosh, it’s so nice to be back.”
Noah Hill is a bald Augustana College theatre arts major who just finished his junior year. In April, he directed an outdoor ‘60s-themed beach version of the operetta “Pirates of Penzance” on campus. He had 16 people in the cast, and it was the first theatrical production at Augie to allow audiences from outside the college over the past year.
Hill wanted to play Charlie Brown because it fits his vocal range and he was interested in theater outside of Augie.
“It’s been really just an amazing environment, to not do Augie theater and get out of that bubble and try other things,” he said.
Hill was an intern for Mississippi Bend Players at Augie in summer 2019, and was on stage for that season’s “Dames at Sea,” but had not seen any prior Spotlight production.
“I love it; it’s been wonderful – a completely different style space,” he said of the former Scottish Rite Cathedral, used as Spotlight Theatre
The maximum audience capacity will be 150 per performance (about 25 percent), Tubbs said. There will be three empty seats between each group, and seated every other row, he said.
“There are two hurdles to opening back up – the first hurdle is being allowed to have people back in here,” Tubbs said. “The next hurdle is having people comfortable coming back out to see a show. I think we’re still kind of in gray water there.
“Some people are comfortable sitting in a theater for two hours; some people are not,” he said. “That’s the next hurdle – when are we gonna be at that point where we are selling 300 seats a night?”
“We do ask that people wear their mask, but once people get in here, you’re in a dark theater,” Tubbs said. “Someone takes it off, we’re not going to know.”
“And if you try to enforce it, that may make it worse,” Sodawasser said.
He noted college got him used to performing for small audiences anyway, like in a black box theater, for 150 people or less.
“If we’re not getting laughs, that’ll suck,” Sodawasser said.
“I have plenty experience with that,” Tubbs joked.
He returned two weeks ago at the Spotlight with the Stolen Set Improv show, including Amelia Fischer and Bob Kelly. Tubbs said they had a good-sized crowd for that.
In March, Brent directed and co-starred in “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) (revised),” with Jeremy Mahr and Fischer. Spotlight was allowed to operate at 25-percent capacity (150 audience members max), and averaged about 30 per performance.
For the new show, Tubbs has had rehearsals for four nights a week instead of five, starting the third week of April.
“Five nights a week is a lot, especially when you consider the majority of our cast work during the day and have lives outside the theater,” he said. “When they’re volunteering their time, we wanted to make it more convenient for people. We’re not doing the weekend tech rehearsals anymore.”
“We’re looking at how we can make the schedule just better for everybody and not burning people out,” Tubbs said. “With this cast, everybody came in and they were already rocking it. We kind of joked through this process, we even took a few nights off. We’re in good shape where we are; we didn’t want to peak too early. Everybody’s just been totally on top of it.”
Following “Charlie Brown,” Spotlight will host “Little Shop of Horrors” this fall, and “The Sound of Music” in December.
“You’re a Good Man” is the first Spotlight show music directed by Mason Moss, part of a five-piece live band.
Moss has been performing in the monthly jazz series at the Spotlight’s Blueprint Bar & Lounge, with Brent’s wife, Sara Tubbs. The next dates are June 18 and July 17, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., with a $10 cover.
Performances of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” will be 7 p.m. June 4, 5, and 11, 12, plus 2 p.m. on June 6 and 13. Tickets are $20 in advance ($25 at the door), available at 309-912-7647 or www.thespotlighttheatreqc.com.