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The set-up: The characters from Charles M. Schulz's much-loved comic strip "Peanuts" turn out not only to be three-dimensional, but to sing and dance as well. The execution: A blackboard (cleverly concealing the band), kindergarden blocks and an oversized doghouse serve well for a series of largely unrelated vignettes, each paying off in humor and setting up a song. The casting has both good news and some less good. First, the good news: Wesley Whitson plays Woodstock, the largely nonverbal yellow bird, and captures admirably through highly effective pantomime his perky manner and helpful spirit. Fleet Simons plays Linus, inseparable from his blanket, and he is consistently good, and especially effective and poignant in his song solo "The Vigil," the doomed-to-failure wait for the arrival of The Great Pumpkin. Katie Caravantes as Lucy nails the self-will, and is appropriately bullying and manipulative without losing the charm of childhood. Mary Pasyk plays Peppermint Patty, is endearing in displaying her unmet needs, and also delivers well some of the funniest lines. Adrienne Shearer plays Sally Brown, and, while she has less to do, she does it all with poise, skilled timing, an expressive face and an engaging beauty. A total professional, she scores a triumph with pretty-thin material when Sally gets only a "C" grade for an art project.
The casting for Charlie Brown himself is puzzling, as the hirsute-challenged, round-faced kid is played by Mateo Mpinduzi-Mott, who has brown dreadlocks that fall well below his shoulders. The acting of Mpinduzi-Mott is fine, and he captures Charlie's naivete, optimism and helpful spirit, but the appeal of the play is nostalgia -- seeing comic-strip characters we know well come to life -- and this casting not only works against this theme, it saws it off at its roots. Equally puzzling is casting Meg McDonald as Snoopy, who is a male dog, and costuming doesn't conceal the fact that McDonald is female. (Aside to "Peanuts" historians: Yes, I know, for a very brief early phase, Snoopy was female.) She fails to capture the "Joe Cool" stance, even with sunglasses, and is short of stellar in Act One, but McDonald scores in Act Two, with Snoopy in a maroon smoking-jacket writing his novel, and ending this skit with a well-delivered, hilarious punchline. And McDonald scores again with "The Big Bow-Wow." The songs are sprightly and the vignettes say a lot about human nature -- one would expect no less from the "Peanuts" gang. The voices are strong, the choreography is interesting and well-performed, though not complex. The enterprise is well-directed by Chesley Santoro Krohn, the effective musical direction is by Michael Mertz and the unseen band, a musical trio, is excellent.
The verdict: Familiar comic-strip characters largely transfer their charm to the stage, creating a humorous and engaging evening of lighthearted fun, ideal for the younger but a pleasure for adults as well.
"Snoopy!!! the Musical" continues through November 5, University of St. Thomas Drama Program at Jones Hall (upstairs), 3910 Yoakum Boulevard, tickets and information at 713-525-3520, -- JJT