“Snapshots” blends classic songs into an engaging, emotional tale

Jocelyn Gauthier and Daniel Johnston in “Snapshots: A Musical Scrapbook”. Photo: Erin Aberle-Palm / Ethereal Photography.

Snapshots: A Musical Scrapbook weaves the rich material of Stephen Schwartz’s career (Pippin, Wicked and much more) into David Stern’s brand-new – and highly affecting, funny and moving – story of a couple on the verge of splitting up. Superbly crafted, uniquely staged, full of wonderful music, and beautifully performed, “Snapshots” – which is seeing its Canadian premiere with this production – is a must-see.

Far more than a mere jukebox musical or simple revue, “Snapshots” stands on its own as fully engaging theatre, while still providing a satisfying tour of the Stephen Schwartz songbook.

The story is ingeniously simple. Sue (Annabel Kershaw) is in her attic, packing her bag and about to leave her husband, Dan (Stephen Aberle). When he unexpectedly returns home, and a box of old photos is accidentally spilled open, they end up taking a tour through their sometimes-conflicting memories of their relationship – from childhood friendship, through high school and college, seemingly permanent partings and unexpected reunions, missed signals, and long-unrequited love.

As they talk, argue, and reminisce, their past comes to life via their younger selves. Susie (Anna Kuman) and Susan (Jocelyn Gauthier) are the younger incarnations of Sue, and Danny (Daniel Johnston) and Daniel (Warren Kimmel) bring Dan’s earlier years to life. Eventually, these visions of the past start to cross over into Dan and Sue’s reality, leading to some extraordinarily funny and poignant moments.

Anna Kuman and Warren Kimmel in  Snapshots: A Musical Scrapbook.
Anna Kuman and Warren Kimmel in “Snapshots: A Musical Scrapbook”. Photo: Erin Aberle-Palm / Ethereal Photography.

The show is staged in the round, with a unique twist: the “pit” for the three musicians (Mark Richardson, Monica Sumulong and co-producer Wendy Bross Stuart) is right in the centre. The audience on four sides is intimately close to the action – even occasionally becoming part of it, with characters briefly handing them props to hold, or even sitting down in their lap.

The stage is constantly awhirl with dynamic action and movement, overcoming the challenges of in-the-round staging to ensure that everyone in the audience has a good visual experience. The small space is cleverly used so that the shifts in time and space, and the cross-talk between characters and time frames, are always crisp and clear.

And the music! It’s said that Sondheim is loved by singers, but feared as well – whereas Stephen Schwartz is truly their friend. And it shows in the warm, witty and wonderfully melodic songs. And while there’s familiar joy in hearing so many classic favourites, often deftly mixed together, they have been extensively and seamlessly rewritten, so that their lyrics perfectly fit the story at hand. It’s the best of both worlds.

The cast all bring warmth, honesty and humour to their roles, and the story touches on such universal experiences of love and relationships that everyone will see something of themselves – or their spouse – on stage.

The show is riddled with spot-on hilarious moments, over-the-top dance numbers and even a delightful wardrobe-based gag, but mostly it is movingly effective at sketching the struggles and rifts that can develop in any relationship, even – or especially – a longstanding one.

I was laughing heartily or awash in tears through almost the whole thing. My perspective as a relatively new father meant that the later scenes that deal with parenthood and the speed with which children grow up hit me right in the heart, but the multigenerational nature of the story means that most anyone will find something to relate to.

In short, this is a show that provides everything I look for in an evening at the theatre – it’s funny, moving, full of great music and wonderful performances. Don’t miss it.

“Snapshots: A Musical Scrapbook” runs at Studio 1198 on Granville Island through November 8. Info and tickets are available through their website, www.snapshotscollective.com.

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