With a collection of both famous and obscure songs by Stephen Schwartz (“Wicked,” “Pippin”) threaded through an older couple’s retrospective of their own boy meets girl, boy gets girl (finally!), boy and girl confront an empty nest story, “Snapshots” is too fully plotted to be considered purely a revue, but still a bit too sketchy to be a full-scale jukebox musical. Instead, this new conglomeration with book by David Stern, premiering at Chicagoland’s Northlight Theater, sits mostly in an awkward but not altogether displeasing musical purgatory, with some redemptive emotional power emerging at the very end.
Show begins with Sue (Susan McMonagle) packed and ready to leave her husband of many years Dan (Gene Weygandt). Dan finds her in the attic of their home, and the inevitable confrontation waits as long-stored photographs spur a lifetime’s worth of reminiscences. Younger versions of the couple (Megan Long and Nick Cosgrove as teenage buddies, Jess Godwin and Tony Clarno as young lovers and parents) appearing before them to bring the “snapshots” to life, defining each turning point or emotional insight with a song or two.
Subtitled “a musical scrapbook,” the show’s concept has a surefooted logic that keeps the piece cohesive and coherent. But it’s easy to be left with a gnawing nostalgia for the old-fashioned revue, where curated songs with their own unique back-story of context and creation would form the scrapbook. Instead, some very fine songs are now re-conceived to service the emotional content of memories from characters who never become more than bougie stick figures, despite the fine performances, particularly from Broadway pros Weygandt and McMonagle.
The most interesting insights exposed here involve the disproportionate number of Schwartz’s best songs that involve youthful yearning — “Corner of the Sky” from “Pippin” recurs a few times here, as does “Lion Tamer” from “The Magic Show.” Songs from “Pippin” dominate the first act — “No Time at All,” “With You,” “Morning Glow” in addition to “Corner” — plus a sprinkling of “Wicked” with shards of tunes “Popular” (because the young Danny isn’t) and “I’m Not That Girl” (when Susie sees Danny with another girl). Unfortunately, there’s so much thematic repetition that Susie and Danny’s constant refusal to voice their affection becomes more irritating than cute or moving.
In the second act, songs involving more adult themes like dating and parenthood bring in examples from less well-known shows such as the comic “Personals” and the highly emotional “The Children of Eden” (“In Whatever Time We Have” provides the emotional climax, which really works), as well as the always welcome “Fathers and Sons” from “Working.”
But the true core of the show rests with examples from Schwartz’s non-show album of personal songs, “Reluctant Pilgrim.” This collection provides the title song at the top, as well as the song that best defines Sue and Dan’s adult relationship (“The Code of Silence”) and the final, hopeful “So Far.”
The production values come off mostly as serviceable, like the plotting. Director Ken Sawyer keeps it all grounded, but the fact that Karl Christian’s contribution is called “musical staging” rather than “choreography” says all that needs to be said about the practicality rather than the expressiveness of the movement. There’s a lot of plopping down on the bean-bag Jack Magaw keeps center stage for the first act.
“Snapshots” has a few too many “Glee”-style mash-ups that keep some songs from generating momentum. But despite all its flaws, “Snapshots” certainly makes the argument that Schwartz’s songs are always well worth hearing, and reflect a full lifetime’s worth of musical life lessons.