by Blythe Smith (OnStage Colorado)
Littleton Town Hall mounts a solid production of the Christmas-themed show
Meet Me in St. Louis, based on the classic 1944 movie starring Judy Garland, tells the story of a year in the life of the Smith family, set against the backdrop of a city preparing for the opening of the 1904 world’s fair.
Even if you’ve never seen the movie, you might recognize the music — if not “The Trolley Song” (“Clang, clang, clang went the trolley!) or “The Boy Next Door,” then almost certainly “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” The play is essentially the movie, adapted for stage.
The story is about the Smiths, an upper middle class, middle American family with a lawyer dad, two teenage daughters, a teenage son, a couple of younger moppets, and an Irish maid. It’s intended to showcase the family in a series of vignettes that give them a chance to sing through the seasons: summertime, Halloween, a Christmas ball. The older son is leaving for college, both teenage daughters are in love, and the younger girls are full of mischief.
A wrench gets thrown in everyone’s lives when dad gets an offer to take a senior role at his firm’s New York office? But can they possibly leave St. Louis? Right before the World’s Fair?
If you’ve seen the movie, you know how this will end, and if you haven’t, you can probably guess. Groundbreaking this play is not, but it isn’t intended to be. Rather, it’s heavy on vintage nostalgia with enough “Christmas” thrown in to make it holiday appropriate. Clearly, it is of its time. In most modern musicals, the songs drive the plot forward. Here, as in many 1940s productions, it usually feels like they had an idea for a song and worked the plot around to fit it in. In other words, the songs don’t feel very organic. Why, exactly, do they need to sing about a trolley?
Well, they don’t. But singing about trolleys is fun, and that’s the reason they do it.
And the show is fun. The cast has plenty of energy and enthusiasm, and the costuming and be-wigged heroines, singers, and dancers are on point. The show itself is suited to both the venue and the season, as Old Town Littleton has that old time-y feel all lit up for the holidays. And well, ’tis the season after all.
The performances are mostly solid. I particularly liked Anne Jenness as Esther (the Judy Garland Role) and Kara Morrissey as her sister Rose. Jenness in particular has a great voice that is well-showcased here. And I have to mention Macaelle (Mac) Vasquez, who plays the youngest Smith, Tootie — and is only 7 years old. She brings tons of personality to the role and is truly a delight. I can almost hear her parents saying, “We’ve got to get this kid on stage.”
I have always enjoyed the staging at the Town Hall Arts Center, and this production is no exception. The stage is small, which sounds like it should be drawback, but instead usually seems like an asset. They use the space creatively, and it works. The Smiths’ dining room remains on stage for most of the production, with a porch that appears when the action is outside and a cast-propelled trolley that emerges when called for. It all works well and gets the point across.
The show itself is not only holiday-appropriate, but strikes me as particularly family-friendly and well-suited to older school-age children. It’s accessible, easy to understand, and has children who figure prominently in the story. Eight-year-old me would have enjoyed it even for the turn-of-the-century dresses and costuming alone. Perhaps it could make a fun and quirky holiday alternative to the ubiquitous Nutcracker.
Most adults will probably enjoy it too. And if you’re looking for a new ear-worm, I can almost guarantee you’ll leave singing, “Meet me in St. Lou-eee, Lou-eee…”