In 1975, composer Larry Grossman and lyricist Hal Hackady premiered “Snoopy: The Musical,” a sequel to the hit show “You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown.” Similarly based on the Charles M. Schulz comic strip “Peanuts,” “Snoopy” (with a book by Warren Lockhart, Arthur Whitelaw and Michael L. Grace) never quite achieved the level of success that “Charlie Brown” did.
Kaitlin Hopkins, head of the musical theater program at Texas State University in San Marcos, aims to change that. Working with Grossman, Hopkins has revived “Snoopy: The Musical” as “The World According to Snoopy,” a new version of the show with a revised book from Hopkins, Grossman and choreographer Adam Cates, as well as an additional song featuring lyrics from Tony-nominated composer and lyricist Andrew Lippa.
After a successful workshop production in 2015, “The World According to Snoopy” will receive its full premiere at Texas State’s Performing Arts Center this week (produced by the Department of Theatre and Dance and running from Feb. 14-19) before moving on to a two-week run in Houston for Theatre Under the Stars. Not only does this provide a great opportunity for the talented young cast of performers, but it also creates a delightful chance for Austin/San Marcos-area families and lovers of musical theater alike to view a lost classic as it strives for a second chance at success.
The most striking aspect of “The World According to Snoopy,” at least at first, is the high-tech and modernist timbre of the set design by Michelle Ney. Fiberglass lightboxes abound, some hanging from a tree and some ported around by the cast to create props and scenery, while projection screens fill up the back wall. Snoopy’s famous doghouse dominates the stage with its own sleek, lightbox siding. This is in immediate and striking contrast to Sally Rath’s costume design, which features cartoonish, oversized dresses and shorts evoking the childlike nature of the source material.
Though a bit jarring at first, these two aspects of the production ultimately do work together nicely, hinting at an important contrast in the text itself between the innocent, childish surface level and the darker emotions hiding beneath many of the punchlines and songs (a tension that was also at the heart of Schulz’s strips). Though definitely family fare, with plenty of broad humor that will play to younger audiences, “The World According to Snoopy” isn’t afraid to flirt with the darker side of human nature as revealed in the depressions and anxieties of its juvenile protagonists.
Those characters are expertly portrayed by the accomplished cast of Texas State students, especially Maggie Bera’s simmering Lucy, Ryne Nardecchia’s lovably arrogant Snoopy and Nick Eibler’s manic, acrobatic Woodstock (with the latter pair teaming up to form a vaudevillian comedic dance duo throughout the course of the show). There isn’t a single weak performance among the entire cast, who allow the show’s complex simplicity to shine through in a way that will speak to kids and adults alike.
Hopkins has assembled a mightily talented team to fulfill her shared vision of “The World According to Snoopy,” and if Texas State’s production is any prediction of the future, the world will soon be singing along with Snoopy once more.
“The World According to Snoopy”
When: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 14-19
Where: Patti Strickel Harrison Theatre, 405 Moon St., San Marcos