When You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown made its debut in 1967, it was lauded for its inventiveness and creativity: a musical filled with catchy songs performed by popular characters from a comic strip and brought to human life on stage. There were parables that followed audiences out the door. It was a musical that anyone of any age could enjoy.
When you have that kind of solid success, there’s no reason to not follow it up with the same formula. Yet, Snoopy! The Musical, the second of two musicals derived from the popular comic strip, Peanuts, just doesn’t have the same pedigree. Its songs are repetitive, its characters are caricatures and its messages are targeted to the Sesame Street crowd.
This time the story’s focus is on Charlie Brown’s dog, Snoopy, although each of the well-known personalities – Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy, Sally, Peppermint Patty and Woodstock –each get a turn in the spotlight.
Just like You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown, there is no plot per se, but a series of vignettes which utilize the same rhythm as a Peanuts four-panel comic strip block.
Each vignette is stacked with a few set up lines and then a punch line. Many times, it leads into one of the 19 songs. Peanuts fans will be pleased with the familiarity: Snoopy as the great American writer and the Easter Beagle, Linus waiting for the Great Pumpkin, Lucy’s Psychiatrist is In, and everyone’s Letters to Santa.
Arthur Whitelaw, who co-authored the book for Snoopy! The Musical, directs Area Stage Company’s production that features the Coral Gables-based company’s conservatory members and mixes in professional actors. It is quite a coup to have Whitelaw, whose credits in the professional theater and television span more than 50 years and who has won every major industry award. Whitelaw, who now lives in Miami, is also an Area Stage Professional Theatre Program Founding Member and will direct its next production of Butterflies are Free.
Whitelaw can be credited with how comfortable the cast is with their roles both individually and as an ensemble in Snoopy! And it’s this ease, plus the hard work of the cast that saves the day.
Joshua Dobarganes as Snoopy is a showman, but his eager beagle should/could have a bit more muscle and a tad less sneer. While Snoopy’s character has always been overzealous and overly confident, he’s still likeable. At times, Dobarganes’s portrayal comes off as arrogant. His solo songs, “The Big Bow Wow” and “Daisy Hill,” seem to lack the “wow” factor that they should have, but much of the problem is in the music itself.
Standouts in the cast include Marilyn Caserta as Peppermint Patty whose natural talent shines through in her solos “Hurry Up, Face” and “Poor Sweet Baby,” and Marc Alvarez as Linus who has the audience sympathizing with his plight as his beloved blanket goes to the laundry in “The Vigil.” Giancarlo Rodaz steals the show as the hyperkinetic, yellow haired Woodstock. Others in the cast include David Harrison as Charlie Brown, Brigid Kegel as Sally Brown, and Anamari Mesa as Lucy.
Michelle Petrucci’s choreography gives the young cast plenty to do without them having to stretch their dance abilities too much, but a few too many tap dance numbers seem awkward and noisy in the small theater.
While Snoopy is the stuff of comic strip legend as the coolest beagle around, Snoopy! The Musical just doesn’t live up to Joe Cool standards.
Snoopy! The Musical runs through Feb. 5 at Area Stage Company, 1560 Dixie Highway, Coral Cables. Performances are 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $25-$35 ($10-$15 with student ID). Call (305) 666-2078 or visit www.areastagecompany.com.