Sunday, September 25, 2011

Well-Developed 'Snapshots' Mines Compelling New Memories From Stephen Schwartz' Celebrated Musical Past

Theater Review

Snapshots: A Musical Scrapbook
a new musical with old songs (and some new lyrics) by Stephen Schwartz
Northlight Theatre, Skokie, IL
Through October 23

From an early age, Stephen Schwartz had estimable success as a Broadway composer and lyricist.

By the time he was 26, he'd written three hit musicals--Godspell, Pippin and The Magic Show--that at one point in 1974 were running simultaneously in New York.

Other noteworthy shows would follow--The Baker's Wife, Working and Children of Eden among them--as would successful collaborations (he mostly wrote the lyrics) on musical films such as Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Prince of Egypt and Enchanted.

But though I've seen a smattering of his work, the only Schwartz creation with which I am truly familiar is his 2004 megahit, Wicked.

So it should come as high praise that I found Northlight's world premiere of Snapshots: A Musical Scrapbook--which utilizes songs from throughout Schwartz' career in the service of an original storyline--entirely enjoyable and entertaining even without recognizing most of the source material. Press about this show has revealed that Schwartz has re-written some of his lyrics to fit the new narrative, but other than noting such changes in a couple tunes from Wicked, I have no idea what was altered or to what extent.

I imagine Schwartz afficionados will enjoy Snapshots as a clever twist on the revue or jukebox musical, but I was impressed that it also works as something entirely new. For if it were simply a celebration of Schwartz' past, I would rue the relative sparsity of Wicked numbers. But with what Schwartz, book writer David Stern and director Ken Sawyer are able to pull off, it doesn't defy logic that they wouldn't shoehorn in "Defying Gravity."

Longtime Chicago stage veterans Susie McMonagle and Gene Weygandt, both boasting Broadway and national tour credits, are very good as a married couple stuck in a middle-aged rut, and they are strongly supported by a quartet of actors--Megan Long, Jess Godwin, Nick Cosgrove and Tony Clarno--playing their younger selves and assorted other characters.

A few of the songs felt a little forced-to-fit the tale of marital strife and the challenges & consequences of the couple's past, present and future, but for the most part the entire thing came off as though the songs and story were organically conceived & created anew.

No, Snapshots isn't as good as Wicked or perhaps some of the other Schwartz shows I'm not equipped to judge (a number of nice songs came from Pippin, which I'd like to see after having missed a Goodman Theatre production some years ago). But it's not hard to imagine a producer taking this show to Broadway for a successful staging in a smaller venue, and Snapshots will undoubtedly become a property snapped up by regional theaters looking to give its audiences something new and brand-named at the same time.

I was able to get a discount ticket through Goldstar and Northlight offers some other nice discount options, so especially for an affordable price, Snapshots is well worth taking a look.

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