It's a dog's life, Charlie Brown

The creator of Snoopy! The Musical is bringing the Peanuts gang back to London
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The Independent Culture

The Broadway director Arthur Whitelaw, who created Snoopy! The Musical, is to direct its 21st anniversary production in London. "It is a show that is very dear to my heart," says Whitelaw, who last directed the musical in 1983, first on Broadway, with Lorna Luft as Peppermint Patty, and then in London's West End. Whitelaw wrote Snoopy! as a sequel to his 1967 adaptation of the Peanuts comic strip, You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown.

The Broadway director Arthur Whitelaw, who created Snoopy! The Musical, is to direct its 21st anniversary production in London. "It is a show that is very dear to my heart," says Whitelaw, who last directed the musical in 1983, first on Broadway, with Lorna Luft as Peppermint Patty, and then in London's West End. Whitelaw wrote Snoopy! as a sequel to his 1967 adaptation of the Peanuts comic strip, You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown.

"These days, there are about 300 productions of Snoopy! around the world each year, and more like 2,000 productions of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown," enthuses Whitelaw. And that's not all he has to be pleased about: the man who gave Liza Minnelli her first stage role, opposite Christopher Walken in Best Foot Forward, and cast Jodie Foster in Tom Sawyer, is celebrating 50 years in showbusiness this year.

Snoopy! brings the creations of Charles Schulz to life with a big band, jazz-style score by Larry Grossman and Hal Hackaday. White-law's fascination with Peanuts goes back to when he was 16. "I just knew that it could be a musical. I tried to get the rights to no avail," he says. "But when I was 26, a girlfriend played me the album You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown and I immediately rang the composer/lyricist Clark Gesner who had no intentions of turning his songs into a stage musical until I convinced him. He also had Schulz's telephone number. It just shows how some things are meant to be. So I called up Schulz. There was this pause and then he said I could make his comic strip into a musical. Well, the rest is history."

Whitelaw knew Schulz for more than 30 years. "He was the loveliest person I ever met. He looked like a grown-up version of Charlie Brown. But he was not funny in person; he lived in his own world. Seven days a week, he sat in his studio and he drew and thought up these strips for nearly 50 years." All of Schulz's characters were based on his fellow students at art school. "At a production in Minneapolis, I met most of them," says Whitelaw. "They came up to me and introduced themselves during the interval."

Now, Robin Armstrong is to make his West End debut in the title role. How does somebody play Snoopy, exactly? "He plays it like a comic dog, but not in animal costume - because Snoopy is really not a dog, but a human, as is Woodstock," says Whitelaw. "Woodstock's all in yellow, but not in a feathered costume of any kind."

The set is a multicoloured impression of a child's world "with a comic-strip feel to it". But Whitelaw points out that this is also a show with sophisticated jokes that adults can enjoy. "Schultz was a gifted observer of life. Peanuts is so much more than a comic strip. It is about real life."

'Snoopy! The Musical', New Players Theatre, London WC2 (0870 033 2626) from tomorrow

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