Sunday, July 01, 2012

Mini-Review: 'Snoopy!!! The Musical'

Last night I had an opportunity to see the Four County Players' production of Snoopy: The Musical, the follow-up to the much more successful (and familiar) 1967 off-Broadway hit, You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, which had a short-lived Broadway revival in 1971 and was revived again on Broadway in 1999.

Despite running only 149 performances, that 1999 production was nominated for a best-musical-revival Tony Award, with Kristin Chenoweth as Sally and Roger Bart as Snoopy winning their own Tonys in the "best featured" category. (That cast also included Anthony Rapp as Charlie Brown and B.D. Wong as Linus.)

Snoopy: The Musical lacks such a storied history, although it does have cast recordings from San Francisco (1975) and London (1983), and an animated movie version available on VHS but not DVD or Blu-ray. (Twin trivia: The San Francisco production was Pamela Myers' follow-up to Company. Her career never really recovered. The animated film, meanwhile, includes in its cast Growing Pains' Jeremy Miller as Linus.)

As sequels go, this could be worse -- but not by much. Fortunately the exuberant young actors ignored the show's mediocrity and gave it their all, so the evening was entertaining enough to justify the cost of the tickets and the 30-minute drive to Barboursville from Charlottesville.

None of the cast of seven is past high school age (even if you include one Princeton-bound recent graduate), and a couple have not yet reached junior high, but all of them show talents that could be put to more effective use with better material.

Simply put, the score of Snoopy: The Musical lacks any of the wit and tunefulness of its predecessor. Frankly, there's not a memorable song in the piece.

While there are attempts by the songwriters (Larry Grossman and Hal Hackady) to ape some of Clark Gesner's successful Charlie Brown numbers, they don't come close to "My Blanket and Me," "Suppertime," or "Book Report (on Peter Rabbit)," not to mention the big hit, "Happiness."

Snoopy's score is second-rate through-and-through, although there seems to be a Raffi-like sense that the writers intend their audience to be elementary-school children rather than adults.  (More trivia:  Grossman was the composer of five original Broadway musicals, including Minnie's Boys and Grind, none of which had runs longer than three months.  Lyricist Hackady was his collaborator on two of them; those plus two other shows also failed to run longer than three months.)

As for the book, one of the co-writers is "Charles M. Schulz Creative Associates." Enough said about that?

How distant this opening show of the Four County Players' 40th season is in quality from the musical that will close it, Into the Woods. That's something to look forward to. especially if one of the three young male actors in this show's cast -- Peter Balcke (Snoopy), Daniel Neale (Charlie Brown), or Aaron Cohen (Linus) -- ends up playing Jack. Any of them could do it, really.

If you've got kids, feel free to take them to see Snoopy: The Musical. Even if you're disappointed, they won't be.

Snoopy: The Musical continues through July 8 (evening performances at 8:00 p.m. on July 5, 6, and 7; matinees at 2:30 p.m. on July 1 and 8) at the Barboursville Community Center, 5256 Governor Barbour Street in Barboursville, Virginia. All tickets are $12. Call 540-832-5355 for ticket information.

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