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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Theatre review: Snapshots: A Musical Scrapbook is beautifully realized

There are so many beautifully realized moments in The Snapshots Collective production of Snapshots: A Musical Scrapbook that you’ll wonder why other musical theatre composers haven’t done the same with their songs.

Snapshots defies description as it is not quite a revue, jukebox, or full-blown musical, but a reworking of Stephen Schwartz’s songs from a number of his more famous (Wicked, Godspell, Pippin) and more esoteric (The Magic Show, The Baker’s Wife, Reluctant Pilgrim) shows and recordings. But what sets it apart from the typical jukebox is that Schwartz has rewritten many of the original lyrics to actually fit this new story. With a few instantly recognizable melodies, there is a warm familiarity punctuated by the not-so-familiar that, on its whole, makes for a very satisfying musical hybrid.

Music aside, though, book writer David Stern has also created a wonderfully simple vessel to hold Schwartz’s “new” songs. Sentimental without becoming soppy, it tells the story of empty-nesters Dan and Sue who, after years together, have found themselves drifting apart.  As Sue prepares to leave, the duo discovers a horde of photographs that tell their story, with act one telling how they came together and act two, how they drifted apart. As the two pull various photos from different times in their lives, the photos come to life in the guise of two earlier versions of their selves: Daniel and Susan and Danny and Susie.

While not the best singers of the night, Stephen Aberle and Annabel Kershaw, as the older couple, have both a chemistry and believability that helps sell this sometimes very emotional story. Their combined skills are very satisfying, with the four musical powerhouses that support them (Warren Kimmel, Joceyln Gauthier, Daniel Johnston and Anna Kuman) as their younger selves.

And while Kimmel, Gauthier, Johnston and Kuman are superb singers (wait until you hear the wonderful “Lion Tamer” from The Magic Show in act one and “All Good Gifts” from Godspell in act two), it is Chris McGregor’s direction and the skills of his actors that ultimately brings this show to life.

McGregor’s deft hand has created a show in constant motion around Jessica Oostergo’s wonderful in-the-round stage, with the tiny three-piece band at its center that seems to disappear as the action plays out around it. There is a fluidity to the piece that is at times astounding, as the actors move from one vignette to the next, or even at times cleverly interact between the ages. The theatre-in-the-round presentation does get in the way at times with sound, as the actors work without microphones in the relatively small Studio 1398 black box, but it is a small price to pay for McGregor’s dazzling staging. A testament to his actor’s abilities, McGregor’s blocking never seems forced or self-conscious, and while exciting to watch, it never gets in the way of the story.

With its terrific cast and equally terrific staging, Snapshots: A Musical Scrapbook is a journey worth taking as audiences will not only appreciate the second life that Schwartz’s music gets but the new life that it receives from its emotional story.  I suggest you bring tissues.

Snapshots: A Musical Scrapbook. Music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz. Book by David Stern. Conceived by Michael Scheman and David Stern. Directed by Michael McGregor. A Snapshots Collective presentation in association with Theatre Bagger Arts Society. On stage at Studio 1398 (1398 Cartwright St, Granville Island) until November 8. Visit for tickets and information.

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