Snoopy: The Musical was performed by MA Musical Theatre students from the Guildford School of Acting at the Ivy Arts Centre, Guildford.
Star rating: 4 stars ★ ★ ★ ★
The world of Charles M. Schulz’s immortal Peanuts newspaper comic strip (and its subsequent iterations on television) presents itself as an obvious candidate for adaptation as a work of musical theatre comprising a series of entertaining sketches rather than a single overarching narrative. Snoopy: The Musical, by composer Larry Grossman and lyricist Hal Hackady, has enjoyed many performances since its San Francisco premiere in 1975, and Guildford School of Acting’s recent production under director Lotte Wakeham revealed that Schulz’s cartoon characters remain as endearing today as when they were first drawn.
The musical’s name refers more to its recurring theme of the changing relationship between the increasingly independent beagle and the humans with whom he interacts, rather than indicating the starring role. Incontrovertibly an ensemble show for its seven-strong cast, Joshua Wills as the eponymous pet nonetheless came into his own from the outset, showcasing his ability to solve a Rubik’s Cube under pressure in the opening scene and delivering a succession of impressive solos thereafter, unfazed even by the complex storytelling of Act II opener ‘The Great Writer’.
As a show built on a sequence of essentially unconnected sketches (much of which was derived from the original cartoons themselves) providing glimpses of Charlie Brown and friends at different times of year, Snoopy: The Musical naturally affords many highlights. Winona Khan as Lucy Van Pelt led a standout performance with the showstopping ‘Dime a Dozen’, and, together with Francesca Pim as Peppermint Patty and Stephanie Stone as Sally Brown, navigated the delightful harmonies of ‘I Know Now’ while flawlessly executing Darragh O’Leary’s engaging choreography.
Ruben Kuppens as Charlie Brown offered an appropriately sentimental interpretation of ‘Where Did That Little Dog Go?’, and Frank Derrington as Linus Van Pelt particularly shone in ‘Edgar Allan Poe’, a song as educational as it was enjoyable for the remarkable delivery of its fact-packed lyrics. But it was left to the near-silent Woodstock, played by Leto Marin – whose performance was such that I wished the show had featured her character more prominently – to lead the ensemble in the final feelgood number, ‘Just One Person’.
Guildford School of Acting’s production perfectly encapsulated the light-hearted vignettes of Schulz’s Peanuts, not least through the work of designer PJ McEvoy, whose costumes were strikingly accurate re-creations of the originals and whose set, with an oversized kennel placed centrestage and comic strips adorning the wall behind, yielded a frame for the performance space consonant with the square boxes of the cartoons. Musical director Dan Jackson and Jill Farrow on pianos, and Harold Fisher on drums, provided robust musical backing throughout.
Ably animating the characters from page to stage, this production gave Schulz’s iconic cartoons three-dimensional form in both the literal and the figurative sense.