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Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Arizona Theatre Company
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's review of Beau Jest

Hugh Hastings, Jim DeSelm, Tracy McDowell, Beth DeVries, Ben Wynant, and Mallory King
Photo by Mark Kitaoka
As one of the most prolific and successful Broadway composers still working today, it's amazing that Stephen Schwartz hasn't had a revue show of his material. With four huge long-running hit Broadway shows under his belt—Wicked, Pippin, Godspell, and The Magic Show—plus plenty of flop shows, this multiple Grammy, Oscar, and Drama Desk Award winner has a plethora of strong material to choose from. Over twenty years ago Michael Scheman and David Stern came up with the idea for a revue of Schwartz's work and the end result is Snapshots, which isn't just a revue, but actually a brand new musical, since it has a completely original story and many new lyrics that help make the songs relevant to the tale of a married couple, in their early fifties, at an impasse in their marriage, who look back on their lives together. This musical has had numerous workshops and productions over the past ten or so years and Arizona Theatre Company's co-production with Seattle's Village Theatre (it was presented there this past Fall) is poignant and well directed with a very good cast, many of whom have appeared in previous productions of this show.

Stern's book is slight but features touches of warmth, humor, and romance. The show starts with Sue ready to leave Dan. She goes up into their attic to get her suitcase only to be surprised when Dan comes home early, which makes her accidentally knock over a box of old photos. As Dan and Sue pick up the pictures they look through these snapshots of their past thirty years together and their younger selves, at two stages in their lives, come to life and recreate significant moments from their past. The older couple often question the actions and decisions that their younger selves made, with the younger versions answering back. In doing so, Stern effectively creates tension and interactions among the six actors while allowing the audience to see that the older couple may not remember the past correctly. While the ending may be predictable there are still enough plot elements that make you question if this journey through the past will be enough to rekindle Sue and Dan's relationship. The only flaw with the show is that Stern's book focuses almost the entire time on the younger characters' lives so we don't really see what happened to Dan and Sue in the past ten years that made them drift as far apart as they are when the show begins.

Schwartz's score features about 50% newly rewritten lyrics so, unlike a jukebox musical like Mamma Mia! where songs are simply shoe-horned into an original story with the lyrics not always being relevant, the lyrics for Snapshot are specific to the characters and plot. While there are a couple of songs from Schwartz's hit shows, many of the musical highlights of Snapshots are from his flops. "Meadowlark," from The Baker's Wife, is sung by the three versions of Sue and is exceptional, especially in the stellar arrangement by Steve Orich, in showing us the reasoning behind Sue's decision to leave. "If We Never Meet Again" from the flop show Rags is interwoven throughout to help bridge the present to the past and comment on the changing stages in a relationship. The score also features a song from one of Schwartz's film contributions, the charming calypso version of "That's How You Know?" from Enchanted, which features the entire cast in a humorous, rousing act two opener. There are also interesting pairings of songs from two different shows that work well together and solo songs that are used differently in this show than in their original context. "All Good Gifts" from Godspell and "The Spark of Creation" from Children of Eden form a tight twosome about the joys of parenthood while "In Whatever Time We Have," also from Children of Eden, forms a nice ending, even if it was originally sung by a couple facing the end of their lives and here is sung by a duo facing their future. Musical director R. J. Tancioco achieves lush vocals from his cast and also leads the strong four-piece band.

The ATC cast is very good. Beth DeVries and Hugh Hastings are the adult Sue and Dan. Both have played these parts in previous versions of the show so they have a clear understanding of the characters. They have good chemistry together which makes them form a realistic couple. DeVries' vocals are warm and buttery and her skilled acting choices give us hints into Sue's decision to leave. Hastings' deep voice adds an emotional resonance to his contributions, especially his soaring take on "Fathers and Sons" from Working. The other four actors not only play the younger versions of the two leads but also a host of other characters, which they all do quite well. Mallory King is the youngest version of Sue and her version of "Lion Tamer," from the now mostly forgotten, but very long running hit, The Magic Show, is a knockout. She also scores as a series of funny girlfriends in "Chanson" from The Baker's Wife. As the youngest version of Dan, Ben Wynant is a force of energy and brings a sense of urgency to the role. His solo of "With You" from Pippin is especially poignant. Tracy McDowell and Jim DeSelm bridge the gap between the youngest and oldest couples and provide rich vocals, with McDowell exceptional on "The Spark of Creation" and DeSelm providing an extremely moving "All Good Gifts."

Daniel Goldstein's direction is smartly paced with smooth transitions and a good balance between drama and humor. There is also plenty of fun and inspired musical staging from Steve Tomkins that adds many moments of varied movement throughout. David Farley's attic set is realistic with dozens of boxes and other forgotten items, just like most of us have stored away in attics and basements, which are effectively incorporated throughout the musical. David Cuthbert's lighting and projections designs evoke the changing times of the scenes set in the attic and use images, photos, and even words to paint the walls of the attic with the imagery from Dan and Sue's past. Farley and co-costumer Tracy Christensen provide plenty of fun costumes for the four younger cast members that easily help them portray the multitude of characters and show the changing time periods.

Not a jukebox musical or a revue, Snapshots is in a category of its own. It offers a chance to hear familiar songs in a fresh new way with many new lyrics, and several great songs from some of Schwartz's lesser known shows. This reimagining may not appeal to those who like Schwartz's songs the way they were originally written and the book does leave a few holes. However, with an original book and by reshaping the songs, this is definitely much better than most composer revues that have no story, or jukebox shows in which the story doesn't gel with the songs or the focus is on the rise to stardom of the composer/performer of the material. Snapshots has a story that anyone who has ever been in a relationship can relate to. With over two dozen of Schwartz's songs, a gifted cast, and impressive direction and creative elements, ATC's production is an extremely entertaining examination of one couple's thirty-year struggle through life's ups and downs.

Snapshots at Arizona Theatre Company runs through January 15th, 2016, at the Herberger Theater Center, 222 E. Monroe Street in Phoenix. Tickets can be purchased at or by calling (602) 256 —6995.

Lyrics & Music by Stephen Schwartz
Book by David Stern
Director: Daniel Goldstein
Musical Staging: Steve Tomkins
Music Director: R.J. Tancioco
Scenic Designer: David Farley
Costume Designers: David Farley and Tracy Christensen
Lighting and Projection Designer: David Lee Cuthbert
Sound Designer: Abe Jacob
Orchestrations and Arrangements: Steve Orich
Associate Projection Designer: Gregory W. Towle
Stage Manager: Brenda K. Walker*
Assistant Stage Manager: Timothy Toothman*

Cast: (in order of appearance)
Sue: Beth DeVries*
Dan: Hugh Hastings*
Susie: Mallory King
Danny: Ben Wynant
Susan: Tracy McDowell*
Daniel: Jim DeSelm*

*Members of Actors' Equity Association

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