Watching “Snoopy!!! The Musical,” a semi-sequel to Off Broadway smash “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” is like attending a friendly, spontaneous party down the block with old friends. Brimming with such positive observations as “Life is like an ice cream cone — you just have to lick it” and “Don’t be anything less than everything you can be,” the show — which ran 152 perfs in New York in 1982 — is sometimes too cutesy. But Charles Schulz’s beloved characters are well embodied by seven lively actors who seem to spring believably from the “Peanuts” comicstrip.
Since Snoopy is the production’s focal point, it’s wise that director Matt Walker (head of the hilarious, freewheeling Troubadour Theater Co.) has cast Joey Bybee, an ideal actor for the role. Whether wearing a top hat and kicking up his heels (in Larry Sousa’s frisky steps) or expressing his desire to be an author in “The Great Writer,” Bybee proves a clever and captivating canine.
Each of the principals is given a chance to seize and hold the stage. As Charlie Brown, Rory O’Malley is one of the musical’s best singers, and he makes a particularly moving impression on “Where Did That Little Dog Go?” O’Malley demonstrates his extensive acting range when he tells Lucy he just wants someone to like him, a moment that concludes cuttingly with Lucy’s rejection: “I can’t do it!”
Robbie Swift as Linus is the most effective cast member in catching the essence of childhood. Talented as the other actors are, we’re always aware they are adults portraying youngsters. Swift’s facial expressions and the hysterical anxiety he projects after Lucy swipes his blanket erase all traces of a grownup exterior and highlight the fearful, dependent child within.
Gail Bianchi’s Lucy is suitably self-absorbed and bossy. She comes across energetically in “Edgar Allan Poe” and “I Know Now” but could reach even further in establishing and sustaining Lucy’s nastiness.
Erin Bennett takes a powerful, vigorous approach to Peppermint Patty, and Tina Groff plays Woodstock with all-out fun-loving physicality.
Show’s book, credited to Charles M. Schulz Creative Associates, Warren Lockhart, Michael L. Grace and Arthur Whitelaw (co-producer of the original “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown”), has a piecemeal quality and would benefit from a central conflict. Although the overall tapestry works well, it doesn’t build momentum beyond individual moments, and some of the goofy gags are puerile even by grammar school standards.
Larry Grossman’s melodies and Hal Hackady’s lyrics provide the playful glue that keep things zipping tightly along, and accompaniment by musical director Win Meyerson on piano and Andrew Meskin’s percussion has an appropriately forceful drive.
The Schulz flavor is accurately retained through Victoria Profitt’s simple set, and Sharon McGunigle displays her fine eye for detail with Charlie Brown’s zigzag-patterned yellow shirt, Snoopy’s white dog suit and Lucy’s pert blue dress. Nick McCord’s lighting creates a comfortably bright, kid-oriented atmosphere.
Topping it off, director Walker’s effervescent conception has the adrenalized pacing of his earlier productions, “A Christmas Carole King” and “A Stevie Wonderful Life.”