Camelot's 'St. Louis' is a great show
If ever there were a family musical, "Meet Me in St. Louis" would surely be one of the top choices, as a visit to the Camelot Theatre in Talent, where it is now running, will amply confirm.
After all, this is the captivating musical that first burst upon the silver screen in 1944, as directed by Vicente Minnelli, and featured Judy Garland as Esther and a youngster, Margaret O'Brien, as Tootie, who was quite the scene-stealer. Rivaled in popularity only by "Gone with the Wind," it sparkled with a slew of Ralph Blane-Hugh Martin songs, such as "The Boy Next Door," Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas," and "The Trolley Song." It was all a charming slice of Americana, set in St. Louis in the summer of 1903 to the spring of 1904 and the opening of the World's Fair there.
Mr. Alonso Smith, who Scott Ford endows with a laughable pompous authority, has his hands full with his four darling daughters as they wrap him round their little fingers. There's Esther (Leah Simon-Westreich) languishing in love; Rose (Juliana Wheeler), trying hard to hook her well-heeled beau; and Agnes and Tootie, their much younger sisters. Livia Genise, the director, decided just for opening night to have Meaghan McCandless and Caitlin Campbell play these roles in ACT ONE and Isabelle Schuler and Kaya Vandyke in ACT TWO. It would be invidious to pick one pair over the other. Both delight with their individuality.
As one would expect, there is sibling rivalry aplenty, sarcasm, playfulness, and running to Grandpa Prophater (Jack Seybold) for comfort and counsel. When Father throws a spanner in the works, so to speak, by announcing that he has been promoted and the family will therefore be uprooted to New York ("A Day In New York"), the family rebels.
In 1989, the movie was adapted for the stage. It ran for 252 performances. Hugh Wheeler wrote the book and Blane-Martin poured out some more wonderful songs. Included in Camelot's production is one written for a 1999 revival, "Whenever I'm With You." Alec Wilder, in his authoritative "American Popular Song," acknowledged that "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" remains "the most honest and genuine of all the attempts to wish one well musically in a season which otherwise has come to be symbolized by guilt and the dollar sign." A personal preference of mine is "You Are For Loving," one of the added songs; a beautiful duet tenderly sung by Esther and boy-next-door John Truitt (Jeremy Johnson).Wendy Spurgeon as Mrs Anna Smith gives a lovely rendition of "You'll Hear A Bell," telling daughter Esther how to know she's in love, and joins her husband later in some nice nostalgia in "Wasn't It Fun?"
If this review is largely a catalogue of songs, it's because there are so many good ones, and the slight story serves as a peg to hang them on. Often there is dancing (choreographed by Rebecca Campbell, with excellent ensembles) that sets one's toes a-twitching. One of the breeziest is "The Banjo," featuring son Lon Smith (the ebullient Karl Iverson). He happens to be the musical director, on keyboards, with Aaron Blenkush on piano and Bryan Jeffs on percussion. I must mention Katie, the family cook (Pat Murphy-Garfas) for her inexhaustible energy and lively interpretation of "A Touch of the Irish"- namely, how to get a man. She does all right for herself, ending up in the arms of the postman (Bob Brazeau).
Throughout, the costumes by Emily Ehrlich Inget are delightful. It's a long time since I've seen so many straw hats. All credit to Donald Zastoupil who, as scenic artist, devised a set that is elegant yet spacious enough to hold the large cast, and uses a minimum of props.
Sadly, Livia Genise, the director, missed opening night &
her father died &
but her brilliant evocation earned an enthusiastic ovation. There had been delighted whoops from parents and friends along the way. Sitting on the right side from me and in full view were two young boys who were so proud of their Dad &
the zestful Christopher Horton as Warren Sheffield, Rose's suitor, in his Camelot debut. They doubtless gave him an "A" for awesome; from me, admirable.