Nothing fascinates a little child quite like a person who's further up the scale toward adulthood, but not yet swallowed by all the dour authority of full-blown "grown-up-ness." Director Brandt Blocker has taken advantage of this natural attraction by casting his children's musicals at Le Petit with teenage performers. In fact, he's created a teen troupe of sorts; most of the cast of Snoopy, currently packing them in at Teddy's Corner, have appeared in previous Blocker productions and most are still in high school. They are a precociously poised and winning bunch.
Snoopy is, in fact, a Peanuts reprise. Two years ago, Blocker gave us a memorable You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown. Nearly half the cast of Snoopy was in that earlier show. Richard Alexander Pomes, who won the Stoorer Boone Best Performance by a Child Award for his earlier incarnation of the world's most famous beagle, is once again perched atop the red dog house. Hardy Weaver once again gives us a Charlie Brown with just the right stoical bemusement. John Hass' Linus once again delights us with his mixture of eloquence and insecurity.
You would expect Snoopy to be about Snoopy. It's not. Some of the beagle's trademark personas, like the World War I Flying Ace, are strikingly absent. It's true we have Snoopy's chum Woodstock, the little yellow bird. An endearing Woodstock, she is. Eleven-year old Sara Rose Brignac dances the silent part with grace and an appealing, slightly woe-be-gone fragility. Instead of a Snoopy-based narrative, we are treated to a grab bag of Peanut-isms, without particular emphasis on any single character. Snoopy's distinctiveness is mostly sartorial. While the other characters remain true to their invariable comic book clothes, he alone is a dog of many disguises -- each one good for a laugh.
The humor of the show, of course, springs from Charles Schulz's classic strip, and it proceeds like a sequence of cartoon panels. Poor old Charlie Brown bursts with pride as a safety patrol street-crossing guard, only to be berated by Lucy for police brutality. Peppermint Patty worries about her nose being too big, until Linus consoles her with the thought that "maybe her face will catch up with it someday." When Lucy asks if she should have her ears pierced, she is advised instead to get her mouth stapled. Of course, Charlie gets a depressing earful from Lucy the psychiatrist.
We also visit a few mini-locales. We spend some time in a classroom, where the teacher's voice is an inaudible offstage mumble. And we go off on a hunt for the Great Pumpkin in the pumpkin patch.
All this give-and-take is buoyed with song numbers, with Larry Grossman's music and Hal Hackady's lyrics. These are catchy and full of charm; for instance, when Sally (Kelsey Vogt), Peppermint Patty (Lindsey Price) and Lucy (Dianna Duffy) team up for the effervescent "I Know Now" (choreography by Jaune Buisson), the three girls are cute without being "cutesy" and have distinct personalities.
Bill Walker's cheerful set benefits from Schulz's simple style and, though it looks to be in large part the same set we saw two years ago, it loses nothing from familiarity (any more than the comic strip loses interest because of its constant visual repetitions.)
In brief: another musical treat from the kids at Le Petit.
A more somber, elegiac note was struck by Shine Productions in its recent staging of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman. It's hard to think that downtrodden old Willie Loman was ever a "peanut." But then again, what will Charlie Brown be like when he starts wearing dentures and cashing Social Security checks?
In any case, Tom Dugger turned in an excellent performance as the doomed drummer, who comes to feel he's worth more dead than alive. Miller touted Willie as "the common man" and insisted he was, nonetheless, a tragic hero for our age. What's more remarkable (to me) is that we as an audience come to grieve for Willie, even though he's such a difficult, boastful, cranky, self-centered cuss. It's as though we adopt him as an elder relative.
Dugger was ably seconded by real-life brothers Mark and Brandon Foret, who played Willie's sons, Hap and Biff. The tragedy centers on the irreconcilable clash between the failing father and his prodigal son. This prodigal's return ends in a facing-up to the truth. But the truth does not set them free.
Brenda Currin was effective as Linda, Willie's long-suffering wife. T. Joe Seibert, Shannon Gildea, Eric Schmidt, Tom Cucullu, among others, helped to create a believable world.
Pat Babin directed this commendable revival.
- Peppermint Patty (Lindsey Price), Charlie Brown (Hardy Weaver), Lucy (Dianna Duffy) and Linus (John Haas) pay homage to Snoopy at Le Petit.