nytheatre.com review by Matt Schicker
March 11, 2006
Take your kids to see Snoopy!!! at Brooklyn Family Theatre!!! It’s a simple, straightforward production of a simple, straightforward show, and with strong musical values, it’s a delightful way to spend an hour and a half.
Brooklyn Family Theatre, located in Park Slope, Brooklyn, is dedicated to presenting family-appropriate plays and musicals, and their production of Snoopy!!! follows their winter 2004 production of the original Peanuts musical, You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. These shows are ideally suited to their style and space. The simple, Charles Schulz-styled set pieces and props by director Phil Greenland and actor Hector Coris are exactly what’s called for, and the brightly-colored costumes by Orlando Haynes and Greenland bring the famous comic strip characters to life.
This 1975 musical was conceived as a sequel to You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, and Snoopy!!! shares more than just the comic strip source material with its better-known predecessor. For starters, it uses the same “song-vignette-song” format, and there are more than a couple of musical numbers which are variations on songs and situations from the first Charlie Brown musical. A school room number with the children fretting over an Edgar Allan Poe reading assignment has much the same feel as the “Book Report” number in You’re a Good Man, and “The Big Bow-Wow”, a second-act showstopper for Snoopy, is very similar to YAGMCB’s “Supper Time.” Some adults may get antsy when a couple of the songs stretch one joke out almost to the breaking point, but, hey, it worked the first time, and the fact is kids love watching Snoopy pull out all the schtick-y vaudeville stops.
Not everything in Snoopy!!! is directly reminiscent of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, however. There’s a layer of complexity, albeit thin, in this show that isn’t as evident in YAGMCB. Although the earlier musical has more of the authentic Charles Schulz humor and heart, the music for Snoopy!!!, by Larry Grossman, is unexpectedly sophisticated harmonically, rhythmically, and structurally. This adds a good bit of interest for adults, and when Charlie Brown reminisces about Snoopy’s days as a puppy in “Where Did That Little Dog Go?”, parents in the audience may get a little misty and pull their little ones a little closer. The two “pawpet shows” with Woodstock and the gang watching a hilarious stuffed animal performance really gets the kids laughing, and adults will find an enjoyable camp element in seeing stuffed animals enact War and Peace or Woodstock falling in love with a worm puppet. (Rachel Martsolf, in the silent role of Woodstock, is wonderfully expressive with her face and body.)
The most impressive aspect of Brooklyn Family Theatre’s production is the very strong musical values. The voices here are terrific—the seven actors manage to get the lyrics across to the audience in spite of the difficult acoustics of BFT’s church sanctuary venue, and the ensemble is musically crisp and well-rehearsed. The women’s trio “I Know Now” is a vocal highlight of Act I, and Hector Coris as Snoopy lets it rip with a belty version of “The Big Bow-Wow” in Act II.
Brooklyn Family Theatre uses recorded synthesized accompaniment for the show, which gives the music a fully-orchestrated sound and allows the sound operator to easily control volume, but it diminishes any feeling of spontaneity or freedom for the actors. On a couple of occasions, the timing of actors’ delivery of lines and audience laughs didn’t line up with the pre-recorded underscoring.
Andrew Bevans is appropriately awkward and sympathetic as Charlie Brown and Isaac Arrieta is appealing and sincere as the smarty-pants Linus. Suzanne Adams exhibits fine comic timing as the tomboy Peppermint Patty, and she’s got a strong voice, whether belting or using her soprano in the very pretty song “Poor Sweet Baby.” Erin King is talented but doesn’t really get much stage time in the small role of Sally. Most of the time, Hector Coris’s dry takes and well-timed deadpans as Snoopy are hilarious, but sometimes his gaze out above the audience's heads seemed unspecific or just blank. However, his energy as Snoopy and understanding of famous pooch’s absurdly moody temperament is spot-on. As Lucy, Dawn Trautman is bossy and has a powerful voice, but, like Coris, she often falls back on a blank stare out above the audience when not delivering lines.
There is much to enjoy in Snoopy!!! for children and adults, and Brooklyn Family Theatre’s production is well worth the trip to 8th Avenue and 10th Street in Park Slope, especially if you’ve got kids. Snoopy!!! only runs for three weeks; don’t miss it.