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‘Snapshots’ a Little Blurry on Concept: SCHWARTZ’s MUSIC SOARS ON STAGE

June 24, 2008

By Karen D’Souza, San Jose Mercury News, Calif.

Jun. 23–”Popular!” — the hit song from “Wicked” — perfectly sums up the Stephen Schwartz songbook. He’s that rare Broadway composer whose shows have transcended generations of musical theater hits from landmarks such as “Pippin” (1972) and “Godspell” (1976) to the current smash hit “Wicked” (2003).

Schwartz may not be as well known as Andrew Lloyd Webber or as esteemed as Stephen Sondheim, but there is a miraculously buoyant quality to this music that is unmistakable in the ear. The composer’s uplifting canon forms the spine of “Snapshots,” which opens TheatreWorks’ season through July 13.

While the musical feels awkwardly stitched together, neither simply a revue nor a fully fleshed-out story in its own right, the tunes still soar. The dulcet harmonies in the score, wistfully blended by director Robert Kelley, give “Snapshots” its flash.

Kelley brings rigor to this medley, keeping each moment truthful even when David Stern’s sketchy book lets the mood slide from poignant to sappy. This is a love story in rewind. We meet Dan (Ray Wills) and Sue (Beth DeVries) when their marriage has crumbled out from under them. Chance leads them to leaf through a photo album in the attic (cozy design by Joe Ragey) where they remember what it was they loved about each other in the first place.

Middle-aged Dan and Sue watch as past incarnations of themselves act out the watersheds in their life story. Molly Bell and Courtney Stokes take turns as young Sue while Michael

Marcotte and Brian Crum fill in the age gaps for Dan. If that all sounds a bit like Lifetime TV, rest assured that the cast works hard to resist sentimental cliches while breezing through the power ballads.

Still, since Dan and Sue seem more like a Kodak moment than a couple, it’s hard to invest emotionally in these scenes from their marriage. The tuner keeps flashing back to sequences (the first apartment, the first child) that seem as generic as they are sweet. The actors are all likable and attractive, but it’s impossible to inhabit characters with this schematic.

Certainly fans of Schwartz will be tickled to hear familiar tunes re-imagined with new lyrics and new concepts. While the material in this compilation (such as the title song) lacks punch, the chestnuts still snap.

“Wicked” devotees will delight in “Making Good,” which was cut from the blockbuster musical. Stokes bounces through the kicky “Popular,” here sung as a childish bit of flirtation. The soaring “Corner of the Sky” from “Pippin” makes an appearance as a segue. “All Good Gifts,” a heavenly song from “Godspell,” is now a slapsticky ditty about parenthood.

Of course, taking the songs out of their dramatic context can be a mixed blessing. The story of Dan and Sue definitely strikes an artificial chord. The songs don’t burst out of the characters’ need to express themselves. The music never feels driven by the story. The tunes never run free. They never find their corner of the sky, as it were, but it’s hard not to succumb to the pleasures of the songs themselves. Schwartz’s golden ear is what makes “Snapshots” click.

“Snapshots”

Mercury News

Conceived by Michael Scheman and David Stern; music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz; book by David Stern

The upshot: If the love story never quite clicks in this musical anthology, the score still soars.

Where: TheatreWorks, Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View.

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays (no show July 4, no matinee July 12, no evening show July 13).

Through: July 13.

Running time: Just over 2 hours (one intermission).

Tickets: $26-$64; (650) 903-6000 or go to www.theatreworks.org.

Contact Karen D’Souza at kdsouza@mercurynews.com or (408) 271-3772. Find more of her stories and a link to her blog at www.mercurynews.com/karendsouza.

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Copyright (c) 2008, San Jose Mercury News, Calif.

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