BWW Interview: Snoopy Speaks! Houston's Own Ryne Nardecchia Explains THE WORLD ACCORDING TO SNOOPY
Ryne Nardecchia is a child of Houston we're more than happy to claim. A product of the Humphreys School of Musical Theatre - and a recent Texas State grad - Nardecchia's returns to Houston to play one of comics' most iconic characters and possibly America's most famous canine, Snoopy, in the Theatre Under the Stars production of THE WORLD ACCORDING TO SNOOPY.
Today the actor joins us to talk about his training in Houston, the trick to playing Snoopy and people's enduring love for the Peanuts gang.
First things first, congratulations! Not only did you just graduate from Texas State (with a BFA in Musical Theatre), we heard that just a couple of weeks ago you went to New York for your senior showcase. What was that like?
Nardecchia: Thank you! It's all been a bit surreal. In some ways the transition has felt very gradual. I'm still getting the chance to spend one last show with my classmates and this creative team that I've been learning from for the past four years now. Other times it feels like being shot out of a cannon into the world. Senior showcase was a wonderful experience. At times I felt a bit over-stimulated, but I met so many wonderful people who were too happy to offer advice in transitioning out of school. I feel that Kaitlin Hopkins [director of the Texas State Musical Theatre Program] has done a wonderful job of placing her students in a community of other supportive artists.
With this being a TUTS show and you being a product of the Humphreys School of Musical Theatre - not to mention a Tommy Tune Award winner - I have to ask: How did the Humphreys School prepare you not only for your time at Texas State, but also for the reality of working in musical theatre?
Nardecchia: Absolutely. It actually changed what I understood theatre to be at a young age. Before enrolling as a student in the Humphreys School, I had only ever been involved in smaller community theatre shows. Though I learned a lot playing 40-year-olds in black boxes at the age of 12, it wasn't until I entered the Humphreys School that I had the opportunity to be a part of shows with a higher level of professionalism and a draw from a larger talent pool. It was the first time that I began to understand the musical theatre world as a business. At the end of the day everyone had a job to do, which was an incredible lesson to receive when I was this young. The school changed my mentality of musical theatre from a hobby to a profession.
Were you at all a fan of Peanuts growing up? What was your familiarity with it?
Nardecchia: The Peanuts actually hold a very special place in my heart for a bit of a different reason. The first musical I saw as a kid was actually a community production of YOU'RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN. I was going to see my younger sister, Grace, who is now also pursuing a BFA in Musical Theatre. I remember thinking, "Hmm ... that looks fun." I was a pretty shy kid, but later that month my mom signed me up for acting classes. The writer of YOU'RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN, Andrew Lippa, also wrote an additional song for THE WORLD ACCORDING TO SNOOPY with composer Larry Grossman. I was fortunate enough to get the chance to tell him that story at our opening night party. But yes, I'm a big Peanuts fan. My family listens to Vince Guaraldi's Peanuts Christmas album every year, and like every other kid I grew up watching all of the TV specials and reading the comics. The characters were all written for a generation older than me, but I love them all the same.
Peanuts is one of those properties that not only does everyone seem to know it, but many of those people love it. (I know plenty of people for whom A Charlie Brown Christmas is still required viewing once a year!) Now, as part of an extension of that world, how to you explain people's enduring love for these characters?
Nardecchia: You're absolutely right. The thing that makes me love these characters so much is their resilience. They virtually never give up. Almost every Peanuts comic strip ends with things not going according to plan. Charlie Brown never gets a chance to kick the football. Sally is constantly rejected by Linus. The Red Barron shoots down Snoopy over and over again. However, this doesn't keep them from trying again. You'll turn the page and see them giving it another go. Rejection and failure can be hard to cope with and tend to paralyze many. It's a hard truth that both of these things are a part of life. I feel that people find comfort in seeing these characters fail, laughing about it, and getting back up to try again tomorrow. It helps readers to not take it all too seriously. So what if you mess up? Try again.
THE WORLD ACCORDING TO SNOOPY was so well-received during its run at Texas State back in February. You may be able to chalk some of that up to nostalgia, but certainly not all of it. What do you think people are responding so well to in this show?
Nardecchia: This show wouldn't be what it is without all of the musical and technical care that went in to creating it. For starters, the lighting design paints a very vibrant world that resembles what you would see in Sunday morning colored comic strips. The primary thing this show offers that the comics don't is music. Larry Grossman is a total genius. The music he has written for this show has a beauty to it that is exciting, simple, and a bit melancholy at times. The feelings and tone created by the comics are honored in his music. The song "Poor Sweet Baby" is one of my personal favorites. Larry told us that he was actually asked by Charles Schulz himself to put it in the show. Schulz suffered from a great deal of depression throughout most of his life, and asked Larry to put this song in the show because it's what his wife would say to him when he'd sink into one of his fits. In the show, Peppermint Patty sings the song to Charlie Brown. Schulz claimed that Charlie Brown is the character that most similarly resembles him as a young boy. All this to say, the show has a lot of heart.
You're playing Snoopy, of course. What's he up to in this show and, more importantly, what's the key to playing Snoopy?
Nardecchia: I'm going to be honest; it took me a bit to really figure this one out. Playing a cartoon character on stage is kind of difficult, especially one as iconic as Snoopy. For the first couple days of rehearsal, I was so focused on nailing all of Snoopy's "isms" that I neglected to remember what makes the character special to me. With a character like Snoopy, it's easy to fall into the trap of playing quirks. Kaitlin Hopkins, our director, really helped out in this regard. She was raised on the Peanuts, so she understood exactly what they stood for. In the beginning stages of rehearsal, we were bordering on realism, playing the characters as simple and truth-centered as we could. After that, we began building the characters everyone knows so well.
I love getting to play Snoopy. He's inventive, playful, a bit of a narcissist, but see's the world with innocence only a dog or a young child would understand. His world is about as big as a five-block radius and he's the star of it: the main character of his life. In this show, Snoopy is constantly striving for fame, fortune, and glory, but falls short every time. Though like I said earlier, he doesn't stop trying. One of my favorite things about playing Snoopy is how he interacts with the other kids. To him they are all young and naïve. This makes sense when considering that he is technically older than them in dog years.
My absolute favorite part of this show, however, is getting to work with our Woodstock, Nick Eibler. In this show, Snoopy and Woodstock are written in homage to old comedy acts such as Abbott and Costello. Woodstock never speaks the entire show. Having such a physical actor as Nick to play opposite of makes it so much fun to play the straight man.
And finally, what's the best advice anyone has ever given you?
Nardecchia: Give everything and expect nothing in return. That's how you live a generous and happy life.
THE WORLD ACCORDING TO SNOOPY opens tonight and runs through June 18 at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby. For tickets or more information, please call 713-315-2525 or visit tuts.com.
Head shot by Nathan Johnson.