Snoopy! may be a musical about a comic strip dog, but this is no dog of a show. In fact, I have long enjoyed watching it wag its brightly comic and tunefully appealing tail. Confession time: when this 1982 Off-Broadway musical first arrived at London's Duchess Theatre the following year, I was just 21 and remember being completely smitten by its combination of knowingness and charm. I have been able to sing along to all of its songs ever since.
Now that it's almost exactly 21 years since that successful run, it's a pleasure to welcome it back to London again, and doubly welcome, too, for re-claiming one of London's 'lost' miniature theatres, the intimate and welcoming New Players Theatre (as it's now called) literally tucked beneath the arches below Charing Cross Station, off Villiers Street.
But how does the show hold up after all this time, now being performed by a cast most of whom were barely born when it first opened here? The answer is fantastically well, apart from making me feel suddenly and rashly old, that is. But then this is a show for all ages and all seasons - and as a sunny summer's entertainment, could hardly be bettered.
Based on the Peanuts comic strips that debuted in 1950 and ran for almost half a century, until the death of their creator, Charles Shultz, in February 2000, they continue to be published today in the pages of newspapers worldwide, including over here, in the Mail, Mail on Sunday and Evening Standard. The musical retains the fast, sharp comic appeal and instantly recognisable characterisations of the line-drawing originals, but also irresistibly brings it to human form by buoying up its snapshot scenes with the tuneful ease of the light, bright melodies of composer Larry Grossman's settings to Hal Hackaday's apt, witty lyrics.
But there's also an in-built limitation that Arthur Whitelaw - returning to direct the show again as he did the original off-Broadway and London incarnations- turns to his own advantage. Since the comic strip plotting and characterisation hardly make for an organic show in which the songs advance the action or the characters deepen over the course of it, it's instead conceived as a series of self-contained vignettes: it's as if the strip has simply walked off the page and onto the stage, with each song or scene telling its own little story. Together, however, the patchwork makes a tapestry.
As brightly and just occasionally over-emphatically performed by a terrific ensemble, Robin Armstrong's Snoopy literally towers over a company that might otherwise affectionately be referred to as vertically challenged. But though the actors may be diminutive, their talent, however, is not. While the show is virtually stolen by Alex Woodhall's Woodstock, a Harpo Marx-like creature of silent expressiveness, there are also lovely performances from Stuart Piper as Linus (and also one of the show's co-producers), Kellie Ryan as Peppermint Patty, Steven Kynman as Charlie Brown, Clare Louise Connolly as Charlie's sister Sally, and Sarah Lark as Lucy.
- Mark Shenton