Meet Me In St Louis

  • Review by:
    Polly Wittenberg


    Music & Lyrics by: Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane
    Book by: Hugh Wheeler
    Directed by: Charlotte Moore
    Cast: George S. Irving, John Hickok, Sarah Pfisterer, Becky Barta, Danielle Piacentile, Gabrielle Piacentile, Doug Boes, Merideth Kaye Clark, Kerry Conte, Ashley Robinson, Bonnie Fraser and Colin Donnell.
    Synopsis: The story of the Smith family as they eagerly anticipate the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis just after the turn of the century. Optimism and young love are severely tested and of course, finally triumph as the story unfolds with the background of the Great Louisiana Purchase Exhibition never far from the hearts and minds of the Smith Family.


    Review by Polly Wittenberg

    Most of us know Meet Me in St. Louis from the 1941 MGM movie in which Judy Garland became a screen teenager after being an archetypal child star in 'The Wizard of Oz'. A stage version of this sentimental tale of the comfortable and loving Smith family at the turn of the 20th century has just opened at the Irish Rep. It is a delightful depiction of teenage expectations and romance, and a stunning contrast to the wonderful 'Spring Awakening', another tale of teenage life in the same straight-laced period, which opened on Broadway just last week. And, like 'Spring Awakening', I highly recommend that you see it.

    'In Meet Me in St. Louis', the children go to school but it is hardly ever mentioned (although the son does get into Princeton). The kids are also very well groomed--from the purple pinafore which Tootie, the youngest and cutest of the lot, wears to open the show, to the gorgeous red velvet ballgown worn by Esther (the Judy Garland role) at its climax. But they are not all goody-goodies. Some very nasty Halloween tricks are played. And their Dad is a bit of a benevolent despot. The two teenage daughters�Rose and Esther�don�t seem to worry about much except whom they are going to marry and whether they are going to have to move to awful New York and leave their friends. That�s about as deep as the story, based on stories by Sally Benson and a book by Hugh Wheeler, goes. No mention of sex or any of the other �dark� subjects raised in 'Spring Awakening' at all.

    So why go see it? First of all, the Irish Rep has mounted a simple but lovely production. The set by Tony Straiges features lighted outlines of Victorian homes and World�s Fair pavilions on watered-silk walls and graceful evocations of hot air balloons under beautiful pastel lighting by Brian Nason. The aforementioned costumes and numerous others by Tracy Christensen are beautiful. Though somewhat constrained by the small playing space, Charlotte Moore (who herself played the mother in a 1980 Broadway staging of this show) has directed with economy and fluency.

    And Moore has assembled a very capable cast including John Hickok and Sarah Pfisterer as Mr.�and Mrs. Smith, Merideth Kay Clark as Rose, and Colin Donnell as suitor John Truitt. Bonnie Fraser, who plays Esther, is fine but as a singer she�s no Judy Garland. But then, who is? As Tootie, Gabrielle Piacentile is beyond cute. As Grandpa, the veteran George S. Irving is, well, avuncular.

    The most conspicuous pleasure of this show, however, is an absolutely classic score by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, here played by an able piano trio sans synthesizer. The highlights�the title song, 'The Boy Next Door,' 'The Trolley Song,' and 'Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas' are all standards. But there are others, e.g. 'Whenever I�m With You', which are almost as good. I wonder whether the rock songs in 'Spring Awakening' with the names unprintable in a family newspaper will sound so good 65 years from now.

    Polly Wittenberg



    What the press had to say.....

    ANITA GATES of the NEW YORK TIMES: �There are four terrific songs in 'Meet Me in St. Louis,' and Esther (played by Judy Garland in the 1944 movie) gets three of them: 'The Boy Next Door,' 'The Trolley Song' and 'Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.' Even without those numbers, though, Bonnie Fraser, who plays Esther in the Irish Repertory Theater�s likable new production, would be a standout. Ms. Fraser�s voice isn�t that strong (she seems to save up breath for each song�s final notes), but it�s pretty and so is she. Looking like a more delicate Ann Blyth, she would have fit right into 1950s Hollywood�

    DAVID ROONEY of VARIETY: "Low on production values but high on charm, this mini-musical -- boosted by the presence of three song classics -- allows viewers to 'have yourself a merry little Christmas,' indeed."

    DAVID SHEWARD of BACKSTAGE: "Loving valentine to a bygone era."

    External links to full reviews from newspapers

    New York Times
    Variety
    Backstage