Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Snoopy Makes an Admirable Effort

The Cast of Snoopy! The Musical
By Andrew Juhl
Photo By Lily Allen-Duenas

Amana - Snoopy: The Musical is based on the original characters from Charles M. Schulz’s Peanuts comic strip and is the sequel to You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. Written by Larry Grossman and Hal Hackady, with a book by Warren Lockhart, Arthur Whitelaw, and Michael Grace, Snoopy has become a family favorite in the roughly 40 years since its first production. The musical unfolds with a series of variety-style vignettes that contain short skits (many based on—or taken verbatim from—actual Peanuts comic strips), as well as showcase numbers about the characters appearing in the musical.

It’s is a fun bit of fluff, but I found myself underwhelmed by the evening. Perhaps it’s an unavoidable and unfortunate side-effect of adapting a property originally meant for adults but later appropriated by children into a musical aimed squarely at children who must be taken to it by adults. Some loss in translation seems inevitable, and the bygone style of humor featured in the vignettes helps the issue none.

At points, the show seems little more than a random collection of classic (and not-so-classic) Peanuts gags and tropes (very) loosely couched as a story about Charlie’s would-be-author pooch. With the exception of the introductory song, Snoopy’s big number “The Great Writer,” and a little bit of the finale, the show actually has very little to do with Snoopy outside of the occasional snippy comment from the other characters about human-dog relationships. The musical falls on the side of mean and prurient at several times throughout—rather than indelibly good-natured and generationally transcendent, the way Peanuts is often considered.

Ryan Gaffney shines as an enthusiastic and animated Snoopy, and I especially liked his performance during the number “The Big Bow Wow.” Sara Kenny, as Lucy van Pelt, combines just the right amount of brash annoyance and belying camaraderie the character is known for, while Jillian Kuhl, as Sally Brown, plays little sister with equal parts innocence and joy to a dependable Charlie Brown’s (Jeff Haffner). The remaining actors are acceptable and talented, though nobody in the entire cast is given anything particularly meaty over the course of the show. Elijah Jones, as Woodstock, was delightfully ebullient and appropriately physical—though even he began to falter and look tired by the end of the evening.

Director Sean McCall makes good use of the stage and the talent of his actors, while the Peanuts Band provides skilled, quality renditions of the toe-tapping, if unmemorable, music. In fact, much of the production is technically solid, and the Old Creamery Theatre makes as admirable attempt as any company might when translating this family-targeted material to an older audience of married and/or retired couples.

If you have children, they might enjoy the show; but there were very few children in attendance during the performance I witnessed, and all but the very youngest appeared bored and giggled sparingly. Seemingly, only the smallest among them found the production’s bright colors and big voices to be entertaining, though—let’s be honest—that’s not the hardest crowd to win over.

Snoopy: The Musical continues its run through August 10. Tickets available here.

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