Opened June 21, 2008 at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts
The cast of TheatreWorks’ Snapshots creates scenes from the life of a married couple set to recycled Stephen Schwartz songs. Photos by David Allen
Stephen Schwartz songbook turns into Snapshots revue
The idea of a musical revue was green before we even knew what green meant. Revues reuse and recycle, just as all good citizens should do.
We’ve had standard-issue revues along the lines of A Grand Night for Singing (Rodgers and Hammerstein), Jerry’s Girls (Jerry Herman), Cole! (Cole Porter),
Side by Side by Sondheim (Stephen Sondheim) in which shiny, happy people (usually too shiny and too happy for my taste) tap their troubles away with seemingly endless medleys clever twists on songs by great composers that we know and love.
Then there’s the jukebox musical (hello, Mamma Mia!), which recycles old songs (usually pop songs not written expressly for the theater) and shoehorns them into some semblance of a story, however awkward.
And then there’s Snapshots, the long-gestating revue of songs by Stephen Schwartz, the composer of Godspell, Pippin and Wicked to name a few of his better-known shows. This is a revue with jukebox aspirations, which is to say, songs from Schwartz’s shows from the last 30 years are forced into the service of an all-new story.
Conceived by Michael Scheman and David Stern, the show has been re-worked and refined right up through its most recent incarnation from Mountain View’s TheatreWorks. Schwartz and Stern (who gets final credit for the book) have been involved in this latest production, and the results are surprisingly good. IN theory, a cobbled together show like this shouldn’t work – it sounds unappealing.
But under director Robert Kelley’s care, there’s a real show here. Not everything works as Schwartz’s re-configured songs attempt to tell the story of how the marriage of Sue (Beth DeVries) and Dan (Ray Wills) has come to the breaking point, but some of the songs work beautifully, and some genuine feeling comes bubbling up.
Spun out in the attic (cluttered, useful set by Joe Ragey) of Sue and Dan’s Connecticut home, the story of the marriage is triggered by snapshots dating back to childhood when Dan, just after losing his mother, moves to the neighborhood and meets Sue, the woman who will be the love of his life.
In childhood the couple is played by Brian Crum and Courtney Stokes, and in the college to middle years by Michael Marcotte and Molly Bell. Everyone helps out by playing various other characters – lovers, friends, children (Crum even dons cheerleader drag) — to fill out the story.
One goal of any revue is to give audiences a concentrated sense of a composer’s life work. We should leave with a sense of who Stephen Schwartz is and what his musical palette has to offer. The overarching impression of Schwartz that comes through here is one of someone straddling two worlds: the pop-infused Broadway of the ’70s and ’80s (which can’t help sounding a little dated) and a more timeless musical theater sound.
Songs from Pippin and The Magic Show, for instance, even in new arrangements by Steve Orich (and under the musical direction of William Liberatore and his quartet), are strongly anchored in a hippie-ish pop, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s just very specific, while songs like “Popular” (from Wicked) and “In Whatever Time We Have” (from Children of Eden) still have Schwartz’s strong pop sensibility but connect to a bigger musical theater sound that helps them work better in this new context.
The best re-worked song is “Meadowlark” from The Baker’s Wife. Usually performed as a diva’s showstopper, the song in the context of Snapshots is performed by the three women in gorgeous harmony who are approaching the song from different places in their lives. It works so well, in fact, you wish the rest of the show could match its intensity.
Though there’s some emotional connection to the beleaguered married couple at the center of the story, our attachment to the individuals is lopsided. The woman, Sue, is far more interesting, and it’s hard to see what she ever saw in Dan and why she pined for him for so many years. The women get all the interesting songs, and as a result, the character of Dan doesn’t amount to much. In fact, one key moment, when Dan finally stops seeing Sue as a pal and recognizes his love for her simply happens – no defining moment, no song, nothing.
In the end, you have to wonder if all the futzing and fussing with old songs is really worth it in the telling of a new story. Wouldn’t a new Stephen Schwartz musical be more exciting than something recycled? Snapshots is perfectly enjoyable, well performed and staged, but it can’t help leave its audience wondering what lyrically and musically interesting things Schwartz still has to offer.
Snapshots continues through July 13 at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View. Tickets are $26-$64. Call 650-903-6000 or visit www.theatreworks.org.
To keep up with Stephen Schwartz visit his Web site: www.stephenschwartz.com