“Snapshots,” opened by Arizona Theatre Company (ATC) this weekend at the Herberger Theater, is aptly described by the show’s author as “a musical mosaic love story built from the songs of Stephen Schwartz.” So, it’s a musical revue of the guy who wrote “Wicked” and “Pippin” and “Godspell” that aspires to greater emotional punch than usual revues. With a strong and talented cast, last night’s performance well demonstrated the power of musical narrative to reach deeper… with both exhilarating and troublesome effect.
In a time when we’re challenged daily to create, own and broadcast our individual stories–with help from social media tools and crossover music genres–we’ve gotten really good at re-purposing art we love to make new, personal meaning. Set in a day when cameras had film and telephones had cords, “Snapshots” nonetheless takes full advantage of the tell-your-story-your-way mentality to vividly relay the tale of a long-married couple, Sue and Dan (Beth DeVries and Hugh Hastings), as they re-live memories by sifting through boxes of old photos in their attic. Though the “Snapshots” story itself is neither nuanced nor complex, it is thoughtful and cleverly told.
So much of it worked so well last night. Just Sue opened the show as she read aloud her letter to Dan that announced, in case he doesn’t notice her absence, that she is leaving and their stalled, disconnected marriage is over. The show’s technical team used a wonderfully cluttered attic set to project numerous vintage photos at varying angles on the walls and ceiling to enrich the memory telling when Dan unexpectedly entered the attic looking for Sue. And then, lots of those photos of Sue and Dan’s childhood friendship and young adult experiences came to life in the form of characters who played younger versions of themselves (Mallory King and Tracy McDowell as Sue, Jim DeSelm and Ben Wynant as Dan).
Steven Schwartz, master lyricist that he is, has bent and tweaked and just plain rewritten a heap of lyrics to blend his music into this new, engaging story. The most brilliant lyric feat of the evening occurred, complete with soft-shoe movement and cane, in a newly-worded version of the turbo-shutter-speed patter song “All For the Best” (Godspell). As for uncanny musical arrangement skills, Schwartz also on several occasions magically layered a tune from one show over another. In particular, “Lion Tamer” (Magic Show) fit beautifully with “I’m not that Girl” (Wicked) in a medley-like duet, while “Popular” (Wicked) melded with “No Time at All” (Pippin) in a cute, light-hearted number.
A lovely trio of Susans closed the First Act with “Meadowlark” (from “Baker’s Wife”) and was easily the show’s musical highlight. Plus, less familiar music of Schwartz’s is truly beautiful, and melodies from “Children of Eden” and “Working,” and even unknowns like “Rags” and “Reluctant Pilgrim” got refreshing performances last night.
But all that grandly conceived music applied to a new setting has some drawbacks, too. For so many fans it’s hard not to feel the competing presence of the original stories and musicals that prompted Schwartz to write these memorable numbers. How does one not hear Elphaba and Glinda or Catherine and Pippin crooning the sentiments when those melodies are already embedded in us as “their” songs? Sue and Dan’s deserving story didn’t have a fighting chance with some of the most ‘popular’ and well-known numbers.
As for the drama and comedy of last night’s performance, DeVries and DeSelm garner the loudest kudos respectively. Having been part of the show’s original workshops two decades ago, DeVries has grown up with the script so to speak. Her emotions and tired, broken heart were palpably raw. DeSelm’s comic timing, facial expressions and extraneous character creations–especially lisping Roger–created lasting, laughable impressions.
Like short-lived Snapchat stories or grotesquely abbreviated Tweets of social media, the “Snapshots” central message that Arizona Theatre Company so well produced may struggle to endure. Stephen Schwartz’s legacy of music and lyrics however, in part attributed to this weekend’s well-focused and framed production, will no doubt continue on for a good number of generations.