MEET ME IN ST LOUISMusic and Lyrics by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane
Book by Hugh Wheeler
Artisan Center Theater
Directed by Rebecca Roberts
Music Director – Richard Gwozdz
Technical Director – Steve Skidmore
Choreographer – Chanie Thomas
Stage Manager – Velocity Brown (Production) Megan Guerra (Rehearsal)
Sound Design – Natalie Burkhart
Lighting Design – Natalie Burkhart
Set Design – Holli Price
Costume Design – Jill Hall
CAST (at the reviewed performance)
Mr Alonzo Smith – Aaron Knight
Mrs. Anna Smith – Amanda Hollis
Lon Smith – Arthur Rohlin
Rose Smith – Caroline Kellam
Esther Smith – Dana Rice
Agnes Smith – Izzy DeLo
Tootie Smith – Amelia Hollis
Grandpa Prophater – Kelvin Dilks
Katie – Judi Conger
John Truitt – Truett Billups
Warren Sheffield – Brendan Ramsey
Mailman/Trolley Driver – Chris Sell
Eve – Sami Duda
Lucille Ballard – Hannah Wilson
Clinton Badger – Mathew Phillips
Peewee Drummond – Zach Griffis
Sidney Purvis – Adam Neuville
Ensemble – Caroline Johnson, Bailey Schwarck
Reviewed Performance: 11/23/2018
Reviewed by Richard P. Buswold, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
“Meet Me in St. Louis” was produced on Broadway in 1989 garnering respectable reviews but ran for only 252 performances. The musical is based on the 1944 film starring Judy Garland and June Lockhart directed by Judy’s soon-to-be husband, Vincente Minelli. It’s about a family with four daughters living in St. Louis on the eve of the great World Exposition of 1904. It was nominated for four Tony’s in 1990 but did not win.
The show opens in the summer of 1903. The rather uneventful Smith family is having their normal rather uneventful day. Tootie (Amelia Hollis) and Agnes (Izzy DeLo) are playing little girl games. Esther (Dana Rice) is playing tennis, Rose (Caroline Kellam) is relaxing, and Mrs. Smith (Amanda Hollis) has returned from a trip to the market. Esther is trying to devise a way to get the family to eat dinner an hour early so she can receive a long-distance phone call (a VERY big deal in 1903) from Warren Sheffield (Brandon Ramsey), a Yale scholar and heir to a grand fortune, with the family out of the room.
Mr. Smith (Aaron Knight) comes home from work in a bad mood and refuses to eat an hour earlier and storms offstage to go take his bath to cool off after the long day. Meanwhile, Esther asks her mother if she is too young to fall in love. Shocked by the question, she proceeds to tell Esther how she fell in love with Mr. Smith. That is the first love story. The second is with Rose and John Truitt (Truett Billups), the boy next door whom she finds delightful and he, well, just doesn’t seem interested. The rest of the story is typical musical theatre boy meets girl, loses girl, gets girl in the end with the twist of dad planning to move the entire family to New York City just before the World’s Fair opens in St. Louis.
All of the main characters in this show are fine actors with great voices and charming charisma. Their on-stage chemistry is natural and a pleasure to watch. Truly a solid performance by a wonderful cast. Some exceptionally iconic songs included in this show are The Trolley Song, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas and of course, Meet me in St Louis. These are the songs that must sell the show and Dana Rice has two of them pretty much by herself.
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, when put in the context of the show, is soulful and almost sorrowful. Rice delivers this piece with passion and beautiful empathy. As soulful as “...Christmas’ is, The Trolley Song should be just the opposite. Loud and brashy and full of life. Unfortunately at this performance it just wasn’t. If you’ve ever seen Judy Garland or Liza Minelli perform this number you know what I mean; loud, proud and drawing a crowd is what it should be. Tonight it was just, meh, here’s a song.
That is one of the things I don’t like about this show in the first place. Too many of the songs don’t flow freely from the script like they should in a musical. A large portion of the songs are introduced by the script basically saying ‘and now I’ll sing about what we were just talking about’. Absolutely nothing that Rebecca Roberts or the cast can do about it but push through and make each song the best it can be and most of the time that is exactly what happened.
Speaking of Ms. Roberts, let me take a minute here to expound upon her efforts. Roberts costumed more than 20 of Artisan’s shows from 2011-14 and she just graduated from Texas A&M with a double major of Psychology and Performance Studies. This is actually her directorial debut. I’m not sure of the number of people there are that would want to make their debut with a full-blown musical with a double cast, but I am thinking it is probably fairly small. She does come with a pedigree. Her mother, Eve Roberts, has directed several shows over the years with more than a few being at Artisan. The hang-up I had was that the direction of certain scene action was straightforward to point of simplicity. The staging of the duets Over the Bannister and A Raving Beauty were just pedestrian. The performances of the songs themselves were stellar but the stage dynamic was mediocre. Then, on the other side of the coin, Under the Bamboo Tree and especially the reprise of The Trolley Song were visually stunning and a joy to watch. That being said, I must give overall props to Roberts for her directorial debut as the show is fun and entertaining.
I watched the first act from the top row of the theatre so that I could get a good overall view of the set. The theatre-in-the-round utilized projections for backdrops behind the audience. They switched from a neighborhood street scene, to the inside of the house to the dance hall. Innovative use of technology for a small performance space. However, if you are sitting on the top row and you are more than than six feet tall, you will have the light of the projectors in your line of sight throughout the entire show. Just something to be aware of.
The costumes by Jill Hall were beautifully light and bright and made the look of the show just that much more festive. The gentlemen were dressed in what looked to be natural fibers for the most part with the cut and colors that could have existed in 1904. The ladies were festooned in flattering dresses and accoutrement that was true to the turn of the century cut and lines. However, all the ladies above the age of 10 had very visible zippers some of which either popped open on stage or were never fastened backstage. Although the zipper was introduced at the Chicago World’s fair ten years prior, the modern zipper we have now wasn’t patented until 1917 and wasn’t in wide use in the fashion industry until the early 20s. There are ways to hide zippers when doing a period piece and since Ms. Roberts has such a background in costuming, I would expect more from her in this regard.
Let me end with some unexpected highlights from the show. Zach Griffis as Peewee Drummond practically steals the scene at the Christmas Ball with the dancing prowess he unleashes on Esther resulting in the biggest laugh-out-loud moment of the show.
The true unforeseen gem is Judi Conger as Katie, the housekeeper. She plays her with a beautiful Irish lilting voice and the perfect wise sage of a lived-well Irish woman. Opening the second act with A Touch of The Irish, instructing the older girls on “influencing” the attitudes of menfolk is a charming delight. Conger is a wonderfully comedic actor and an asset to any show.
Artisan Center Theatre has taken a decent show, loaded it with first rate performers, believed in a young, first-time director and created a most enjoyable theatre experience for the holidays. Pack up the kids and the in-laws and make plans to see this before Christmas.
M/T/Th/F/Sat Evening 7:30
Sat Matinee 3:00
Tickets $12 - 24
To purchase tickets, visit www.artisanct.com or call the Box Office @ 817-284-1200