It was a stage musical and a TV special, but how does the second “Peanuts” musical comedy also connect to David Bowie, Disneyland, Roger Rabbit and The Muppets?
Susan Bloom & Warren Lockhart in Association with
Charles M. Schulz Creative Associates present
The New Musical Entertainment (San Francisco Cast)
DRG Records DRG-6013 (12” 33 1/3 RPM / Stereo / 1976)
CD Reissue: DRG 6013 (1992)
Based on the Comic Strip “Peanuts” by Charles M. Schulz. Book: Warren Lockhart, Arthur Whitelaw, Michael L. Grace. Album Producers: Larry Grossman, Jim Ed Norman. Orchestrations and Vocal Arrangements: Lawrence J. Blank. Musical Direction: Jon Olson. Keyboards: Jon Olson, Gus Gustavson. Engineer: David Coffin. Mastering: Jack Adelman, RCA Records. Mixer: Bill Rakiewicz, Chappell Studio, NY. Recorded at Wally Heider Studios, San Francisco. Running Time: 41 minutes.
Performers: Don Potter (Snoopy); James Gleason (Charlie Brown); Pamela Myers (Peppermint Patty); Roxann Pyle (Sally), Carla Manning (Lucy); Jimmy Dodge (Linus); Alfred Mazza (Woodstock).
Songs: “The World According to Snoopy,” “Edgar Allan Poe,” “I Know How,” “The Vigil,” “Clouds,” “Where Did That Little Dog Go?” “Daisy Hill,” “Friend,” “The Great Writer (It Was a Dark and Stormy Night),” “Poor Sweet Baby,” “Don’t Be Anything Less,” “The Big Bow Wow,” “Just One Person” by Larry Grossman, Hal Hackady.
Instrumentals: Overture, “Woodstock’s Theme” by Larry Grossman.
Rarely does lightning strike twice in the same place, but in the case of the musical version of “Snoopy,” it did indeed. Though the show hasn’t permeated the public consciousness as much as its predecessor, “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” this show—and its score—charmed most critics and audiences worldwide, in addition to being animated for a 1988 CBS hour-long special.
Like “Good Man” and most of the “Peanuts” films, “Snoopy” strings story arcs and gags from the comic strip into a narrative, this time about Snoopy’s growing independence from Charlie Brown. So many years—and comic strips—had passed between the first musical in 1967 and this show in 1975, there was a lot more “Peanuts” to cover, including the addition of Peppermint Patty and Woodstock. So, while the “Snoopy” songs cover some of the same ground as “Good Man” (“Edgar Allan Poe” suggests “The Book Report,” for example), the second show mined many subsequent elements, like the Easter Beagle and Snoopy’s writing career.
“We actually had Charles Schulz in rehearsal from time to time,” says Pamela Myers, the original Peppermint Patty. It was a wonderful experience all around. Terrific songs, cast, staging….an adorable, funny show.”
The original stage versions of “Snoopy” also continued the tradition of using young adults to play the characters, with Snoopy and Woodstock in somewhat human form, as opposed to theme park-style costumes. But in a departure from “Good Man,” there is a greater touch of sophistication in the songs. True, “Peanuts” has always been a comic strip about philosophical, mature observations coming from grade schoolers, but when Charlie Brown sings “Where Did That Little Dog Go?” it’s as if he’s a parent dealing with growing children. Peppermint Patty, Lucy and Sally sing “I Know Now,” a whimsical tune about hindsight, much as if three young women were comparing notes about their lives.
An especially notable example is Pamela Myers’ performance of “Poor Sweet Baby,” based on the classic Sunday comic in which Charlie Brown tells Peppermint Patty about the kind of person he might marry. During the course of the song, Myers never breaks character, but deftly straddles childlike phrasing with an emotive Broadway belt. “When I start the song, Patty is embarrassed and ribbing Chuck,” Myers recalls, “But as the song goes on she gets more serious… And at the end she turns around and gives him a zinger!”
The songs are the work of Broadway, TV and film writer/lyricist Hal Hackady (Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Minnie’s Boys) and Larry Grossman, who, in addition to Broadway shows, specializes in “special material” for such stars as Liza Minnelli, Goldie Hawn, the Muppets and Bing Crosby.
It was for Crosby that Grossman created the music for a landmark moment in entertainment history. When David Bowie agreed to appear in what was to be Bing Crosby’s last Christmas special, the condition was that he not sing “The Little Drummer Boy.” Bowie disliked the song, but it had already been planned for Bing, so Grossman (who wrote several original songs for the special) was asked to solve the problem. With musical director Ian Fraser and writer Buz Kohan, he came up with Bowie’s touching “Peace on Earth” countermelody as well as the bridge that Crosby and Bowie sing together.
This duet has become so legendary that, since the stars never formally recorded it for records, the version heard for decades was picked up from the videotape.
GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“Don’t Be Anything Less”
This is one of the “Snoopy” songs that took on a life of it own beyond the musical show. You can see the 1988 animated TV version here and hear the 1976 cast album version here. Go to 19:30 on the video below to watch Danny Kaye sing it on the Disneyland 25th Anniversary special in 1980.
Howard & Patrick Ltd. Present the Watermill Theatre Production
SNOOPY THE MUSICAL
Original London Cast
Polydor Records 820 247-1 Y-1 (12” 33 1/3 RPM / Stereo / 1983)
CD Reissue: Polydor 820 247-1 Y-1 (1998)
Based on the Comic Strip “Peanuts” by Charles M. Schulz. Book: Warren Lockhart, Arthur Whitelaw, Michael L. Grace. Show Producers: Max Howard, John Patrick, Jill & James Sargent. Album Executive Producer: John Yap. Musical Director: Stuart Pedlar. Keyboards: Stuart Pedlar. Matthew Scott. Percussion: Philip Hopkins. Engineer: John Kurlander. Assistant Engineer: Ian Grimble. Associate Producer: Gil King. Recorded at EMI Abbey Road Studios, London. Running Time: 57 minutes.
Performers: Teddy Kempner (Snoopy); Robert Locke (Charlie Brown); Nicky Croydon (Peppermint Patty); Susie Blake (Sally), Zöe Bright (Lucy); Jimmy Dodge (Linus); Alfred Mazza (Woodstock).
Songs: “The World According to Snoopy,” “Edgar Allan Poe,” “I Know How,” “The Vigil,” “Clouds,” “Where Did That Little Dog Go?” “Daisy Hill,” “The Great Writer (It Was a Dark and Stormy Night),” “Poor Sweet Baby,” “Don’t Be Anything Less,” “The Big Bow Wow,” “Just One Person” by Larry Grossman, Hal Hackady.
Songs Added for the London Version: “Snoopy’s Song,” “Hurry Up Face,” “Mother’s Day,” “Dime a Dozen,” “When Do the Good Things Start?” by Larry Grossman, Hal Hackady.
Instrumentals: Overture, “Woodstock’s Theme” by Larry Grossman.
By the time “Snoopy” reached the London stage, it had already been staged Off-Broadway (with Married with Children’s David Garrison as Snoopy) and Canada. Producer Max Howard, in his theater days before becoming an executive on such features as Who Framed Roger Rabbit and The Iron Giant, brought “Snoopy” to the West End.
“I optioned the UK rights to the stage show, which opened at the Duchess Theatre in London’s West End in 1983 and ran for over a year,” Howard says. “It was nominated for three Olivier Awards: Best Musical, Best Actor (Teddy Kempner) and Best Supporting Actress (Zöe Bright). We recorded the soundtrack at Abbey Road on the same stage the Beatles used!”
“I optioned the UK rights to the stage show, which opened at the Duchess Theatre in London’s West End in 1983 and ran for over a year. it was nominated for three Olivier Awards: Best Musical, Best Actor (Teddy Kempner) and Best Supporting Actress (Zöe Bright). We recorded the soundtrack at Abbey Road on the same stage the Beatles used!”
Royal Shakespeare Company actor Teddy Kempner was the London Snoopy, having just played multiple roles in the massive 8 ½-hour production of Dickens’ The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, both on the London and Broadway stage, as well as in the 1982 four-night TV broadcast.
Though there was one song, “Friend,” that had been dropped after the San Francisco run, several new songs were added for the West End version. Perhaps the most emotionally impactful song from the show was “Just One Person,” a stirring anthem to self esteem that was included in every production. It served as the finale number, much as “Happiness” did for “Good Man.”
“Just One Person” was performed on The Muppet Show by guest star Bernadette Peters in 1977, when Larry Grossman was a musical consultant for the series. This performance was included on the second Muppet Show record album. Months later, Peters sang it again on The Tonight Show when Kermit the Frog was the guest host. The Sesame Street cast sang the song to Big Bird on a record album called “Block Party.”
After Jim Henson’s untimely passing in 1990, public memorial services were held in New York and London. Henson’s instructions were that there be a jazz band and no one to wear black. According to Muppet Wiki, “The programs for both were fairly similar, but not identical; both combined hymns and Bible readings with remembrances from family and friends and Muppet performances, and both featured a solo by Big Bird and a gathered mass of puppeteers and Muppets for “Just One Person” as the closing song. An excerpt from a letter written by Henson four years before his death and addressed to his children was printed on the programs for both: ‘Please watch out for each other and love and forgive everybody. It’s a good life, enjoy it.’
The 1988 animated TV version of “Snoopy” was, like 1985’s “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” was a shortened version of the stage show. As in other “Peanuts” specials, children voiced the characters–except for Snoopy himself, who had his own songs to sing. Playing Snoopy was Cam Clarke, who in addition to being the voice of Leonardo on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the original English Kaneda in Akira, grew up singing as a member of the popular King Family, a real-life clan of over three dozen who starred in an ABC TV series, record albums and concert tours. Unfortunately, the special has yet to be released on DVD or Blu-ray, though it did appear on VHS.
“Snoopy the Musical” still stands in the shadows of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” especially since the latter’s multiple Tony-winning 1999 revival (which helped launch the career of Kristen Chenowith, who played Sally). There was even a brief Off-Broadway revival in 2016.
But as Linus said in the 1966 special It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (quoting an Avis rental car ad campaign), “Being number two, perhaps you try harder.”
GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“Just One Person”
A truly magnificent song as heard sung by Bernadette Peters on The Muppet Show, at Jim Henson’s memorial service, on the Muppets’ own TV celebration of Henson’s life, CBS’ animated <em>Snoopy the Musical special, and at the 55:17 mark in the video below from the London cast album. The London version is the only one in which there is a key change at the very last chorus, adding a strikingly dramatic impact.