I would be the first to admit that the idea of a famous Broadway songwriter creating a revue to re-deliver songs from several of his past musicals wasn’t exactly enticing. That made it an even better surprise that “Snapshots” by the brilliant Stephen Schwartz (composer of Wicked, Godspell, Pippen, the Baker’s Wife and many others) and with a Book by David Stern turned out to be such a moving and authentic pleasure. The show was conceived by Stern and Michael Scheman, and has quite a long history of development, all of which pays off in this surprisingly original and genuine production. In addition to the top-notch performers, Director Daniel Goldstein, Music Director R.J. Tancioco and with Musical Staging by Steve Tomkins combines to deliver a production that feels intimate, original and deeply genuine.
The story takes place in an attic of the house where Dan and Sue have lived for quite too long. Sue is ready to leave, because she can’t really communicate with her husband anymore and doesn’t really see any hope for their relationship to improve in the future. Their lives seem to all be behind them. It is only when they begin to go through old photographs stored up here, and begin to recall all that has brought them to this place, that they discover that what really holds them together is their shared history, their mutual commitment to insure that their lives have not been wasted, and that they can create something satisfying that can be their future. As we go through the story we meet each of their former selves, at different times in their lives, and as they interact with those memories each discovers that the past is not distant, but in every element of who they are in the present.
The childhood Susie and Danny are played by Mallory King and Ben Wynant. We first meet Danny as he arrives in the neighborhood, and we see all that Susie tries to do to make him fit in with the rest of the kids, and to be his friend. We then meet the older Susan (Tracy McDowell) and Daniel (Jim DeSelm) as Daniel is about to go off to college. Susan wants to go to Art school, but is not accepted. She goes off to the same college as Daniel and although they are still just friends, it is only a fair bit later when they move into the same house and ultimately become a couple. An unexpected pregnancy has a fair bit to do with that. Even at that early point, Dan is not really connected with what’s going on inside Susan’s heart and mind. Daniel’s commitment to his work, and Sue’s postponed dreams move the couple farther and farther apart, until we arrive at this fateful day, many years later, in the attic.
These four actors are uniformly talented and effective in portraying a fairly wide range of people, both comic and sympathetic. They are all accomplished singers, as well. This show never sags and there is a moving recognition of just how quickly the years go by. And that, of course, is what brings us to Sue and Dan in the present day.
I think that the biggest surprise of this show, made up of songs from other shows (in some cases revised and tweaked) is that every single musical number felt like it belonged to this story, to these two people, to this particular moment in time. That is a really great achievement.
Of course, critical to that are the performances of Dan and Sue. As Dan, Hugh Hastings was excellent in portraying a man who was simply blind to his wife’s needs, to his selfish, decades long self-involvement, to how distant he had become to her, and how important she still was to him. Hastings is an excellent singer, but his songs never felt like performance as much as they felt like genuine expressions of his common inner being, his own lack of self-knowledge and his mistaken assessment of what was really important in his life.
Beth DeVries is a wonderful performer, a gifted singer and in this role, a woman who is so authentic that we not only see the outer life that she needs to escape, but all of the subtleties of the inner life that have proven to be such a disappointment. I never doubted a single gesture, a single expression or a single choice in her entire performance. In particular, she was able to portray how complex, conflicted and expensive personal choices are in the final total of one’s life. I believed Sue’s connection with Dan, but I also believed so very much of her individual identity, her own misunderstanding of who she was and her heartfelt desire to have a life that is fulfilled and mutually shared. This was a brilliant performance that never felt like it was looking for a spotlight, so much as it was looking for a magnifying glass. Neither of these people are afraid of the truth, and that was so much of what made this show so moving.
“Snapshots” has finished its run in Issaquah (where much of it was developed) and following this run in Everett it will continue to Arizona for runs in both Tucson and Phoenix. It is a co-production between the Village Theatre and the Arizona Theatre Company. Do not think for a minute that this is a revue or revival of past musical theater successes. This is an entirely new show about two very real people that we all know. Every moment is about these two people and their story. No matter where you are, don’t miss this superb new show.