Review by Doug Iden of “Meet Me in St. Louis”: Covedale Theatre
The year long wait by the Smith family for the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition (known informally as the St. Louis World’s Fair) is depicted on the Covedale Stage in the theater version of “Meet Me in St. Louis”. Based upon “The Kensington Stories” by Sally Benson and the classic 1944 musical with music and lyrics by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, we see the middle-class life of a turn-of-the-20th-century family in middle America. The movie, starring Judy Garland, concentrated on her character Esther but the expanded theatrical version is more of an ensemble piece which further tells the stories of the entire family.
The show opens with introductions of the Smith family in the summer of 1903 with Lon (Tyler Rosenblatt) reviewing the catalog for Princeton, Rose (Brianna Bernard) anticipating a long distance call from possible fiancé Warren Sheffield (Dylan McGill), Esther (Sydney Kline) pining over their neighbor John Truitt (Matthew Gretz), Agnes (Clare Graff) and Tootie (Morgan Reynolds) playing with her dolls. We also meet mother Anna (Talia Zoll), Grandpa Prophater (Joe Hornbaker) and maid and principal busybody Katie (Angela Alexander Nalley). They are all relaxing but agog at the upcoming event while singing the classic “Meet Me in St. Louis” which is repeated numerous times throughout the show.
Gruff attorney father Alonso (John Langley) comes home for dinner in a bad mood and disrupts the carefully laid plot to allow Rose to speak privately with Warren on the new-fangled telephone. Alonso views his role as provider-in-chief instead of doting father with his wife mediating between her husband and the children. The call finally comes through and we hear a feisty Rose staking out her role in regards to the relationship,
All of the Martin/Blane songs from the movie are featured plus a number of additional songs which the pair wrote for the 1989 Broadway show. The new songs are serviceable but do not compare with the original score. Sydney Kline is well cast as a more rounded Esther and has a good singing voice, starting with the plaintive “The Boy Next Door”. In the second act, Esther and John join for a nice duet “You are for Loving”.
A highlight of the first act is the novelty routine “The Trolley Song” featuring most of the cast. Brett Bowling designed a trolley facsimile with the siblings and friends riding the trolley with John trying to catch up. Another highlight of act one is the square dance number “Skip to My Lou” followed by “Under the Bamboo Tree” featuring Esther, Agnes and Tootie. School for the Creative and Performing Arts student Morgan Reynolds is delightfully charming as Tootie and almost steals the scenes she is in along with 14-year old Clare Graff as mischievous imps causing problems for their older siblings.
The first act moves a little slowly but the pace quickens after intermission with a rousing trio of Katie, Esther and Rose singing “A Touch of the Irish”. Nalley (as Katie) provides comic relief and home-spun philosophy along with an excellent soprano voice.
Father creates a family crisis when he announces that he has accepted a position in New York City and they would all be moving east. The family, for differing reasons, is not happy but try to make the most of it with a game but half-hearted song “A Day in New York”. As the family acclimates to the prospect of moving, they rally around the rambunctious “The Banjo” led by Tyler Rosenblatt.
The seasons pass from Halloween to Christmas which is highlighted by the iconic “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”. Father realizes that he has made a mistake and announces that he will not accept the transfer and they will stay in St. Louis.
Dowling’s set is static with the family living and dining rooms and a porch as the primary features. It is quite detailed and represents a middle-class home at the time. He has a painting of a Ferris Wheel on a mural in the back which was a feature the actual World’s Fair which was held at the current location of the St. Louis Zoo and Forest Park. Costumes by Caren Brady were authentic period dresses for the women and more formal attire for the men. The trick is to create the illusion of heavy, multi-layered clothing while allowing the performers freedom to move and dance. The onstage eight-piece orchestra conducted by Ryan Henrich accented the singers well. Director/Choreographer Dee Anne Bryll handled the dancing well despite a smaller stage due to the set and the orchestra.
The ensemble nature of the show (versus the movie) is a bit of a good news, bad news situation. On the one hand, we see much more of the entire family with their individual desires, goals and dreams but that also seems to somewhat dilute the charming and intimate nature of the movie. The show is a little uneven and the microphones did not seem to be adjusted quite right. The sound for the men seemed correct but it was difficult at times to understand some of the women. However, it is a worthy effort with a lot of personality.
So, wait for the “clang, clang, clang” of the trolley and hop aboard down to the Covedale Theater for a nostalgic view of the Smith family in St. Louis running through March 8.