MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS—A Sentimental Family Journey

by Ronald Comer

Based on the 1944, MGM romantic musical film starring Judy Garland, Margaret O’Brian and Mary Astor, MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS is filled with memorable songs. Some in the show are recognizable as traditional American songs from much earlier days than the MGM film. The title song, “Meet Me in St. Louis,” for example, was written by Andrew Sterling and first performed in 1904 to celebrate the opening of the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition, better known as the St. Louis World Fair. Songs written especially for the MGM movie and sung by performers in The King of Prussia Player’s production include, “The Boy Next Door,” “The Trolley Song,” and the now standard holiday favorite, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” An interesting side-note regarding the 1904 Fair, around which the play’s story revolves, is that the largest pipe organ in the world at that time was exhibited in Festival Hall and after the close of the Fair that same year it was purchased by John Wanamaker for his new department store in Philadelphia.

Tootie Smith (Amia Shavaun) sings The Drunk Song for Lon's guests in King of Prussia Players' MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS, running through November 13. (Photo credit: Linda Clark)

Set on a very large stage in a moderately large auditorium with comfortable seating within the Upper Merion Area Middle School, this revival of the Broadway musical version which opened at the Gershwin Theatre in 1989, was directed by Laurel Smith and features some wonderful songs added for the stage version including; “You’ll Hear a Bell,” “A Touch of the Irish” and “You Are For Loving.” The songs support a story involving the Smith family who are informed by Papa Alonso Smith, played by Steve Kuerschner, that because he is being transferred to New York with a job promotion the family will have to leave their beloved St. Louis home. While his loving wife, played convincingly by Andi Rose, who sings the lovely “You’ll Hear a Bell,” tries her best to remain supportive of her husband’s announcement, all four daughters find the news that they will have to leave school plans, friends, and romantic interests behind, an unbearable prospect. The only son, Lon Jr., played by Danny Scott, also has romantic interests at stake and is supportive of his younger sisters. However, already a student at Princeton, he seems least in conflict over the impending move.

Much of the show’s dramatic focus centers on the love interests of the two older sisters, Rose and Esther. Rose, is hopeful that financially secure Warren Sheffield, played ably by David Cox, will eventually get around to asking her to marry. Christine Winans plays Rose with all the stubborn vim and vigor one might expect for this easily perturbed character, but unfortunately compromises many otherwise wonderful moments with fellow actors by frequently breaking the “fourth wall” during both spoken scenes and musical numbers. Robin Richardson is outstanding as Esther, who is in love with “the boy next door.” She performs most of the show’s best numbers very nicely and is quite captivating in her love songs to and with John Truitt, the boy next door, played by Kurt Anderson, who also does a fine job with his character and sings very well, particularly in a sweet duet with Esther near the end of the second act.

Among other notable performances is an absolutely charming one turned in by Amia Shavaun as Tootie Smith, the youngest sister, who in the MGM film was played by the then famous child star Margaret O’Brian. Elise Michelle Dadourian is delightful as Agnes, Tootie’s sometimes sweet and sometimes trouble-making slightly older sister. The Smith household also features an Irish maid, Katie, played with great enthusiasm and a wonderful Irish lilt by Patty Bowman, who sings and dances her way into the audience’s heart.

Though all principal actors were equipped with wireless mics, there were frequent sound issues causing both spoken and sung lines to be either inaudible or difficult to understand. Exacerbating the sound problems was a ten-member orchestra set on the floor directly in front of the stage and which all too often overwhelmed singers in musical performances. Somewhat less problematic were noticeable missteps in lighting this show. Often parts of scenes were being played in areas of the stage lacking lighting, while nearby portions of the stage seemed adequately lit. One could not help but wonder if actors were merely wandering into darkened areas of the stage by mistake, or if they were following original blocking directions that had somehow never been shared with the lighting crew.

Despite the unevenness of this musical production, there were many audience-pleasing moments allowing this somewhat sentimental journey back in time to family life, manners, and hopes and dreams to still retain special appeal for all ages.

Music/Lyrics by Hugh Martin / Ralph Blane
Directed by Laurel Smith
November 5 – 13, 2010
King of Prussia Players
Upper Merion Area Middle School
450 Keebler Road
King of Prussia, PA

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