REVIEWS: Meet Me in St. Louis

Meet Me in St. Louis
NYTheatre.com Reviews October 20, 2004
Reviewed by David Pumo

Meet Me In St. Louis, in the Musicals Tonight! concert-style production at the 45th Street Theatre, is a family show if ever there was one. Sweeter than molasses and full of light, silly songs and simple dance numbers, it will surely bring a smile to even the most jaded theatregoer’s face. The stage musical was originally produced in 1960, based on the 1944 Vincente Minnelli movie starring Judy Garland - the two met making this movie. The show later made it to Broadway in 1989. The book by Hugh Wheeler is almost identical to the film, but there are additional songs by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, who wrote the music for the movie. Those of you who are fans of the movie will surely enjoy this charming production. Directed by Thomas Mills, with musical direction by James Stenborg, it is faithful in every way to the content and the innocent spirit of the film.

The show is set during the months leading up to the 1904 Worlds Fair, a major event in St. Louis’s history. The fair’s outdoor lighting, a relatively new phenomenon, was installed by Thomas Edison himself. Apache warrior Geronimo appeared, as did Teddy Roosevelt, the Liberty Bell, one of Lincoln’s cabins transported piece by piece, and a Ferris wheel capable of carrying 2,162 people at once. The hot dog, iced tea, and the ice cream cone were all invented there. As St. Louis prepares for this event that is destined to put the city prominently on the map, the Smith family, including five kids and grandpa, dance and sing their way through life’s unpredictable turns and predicaments.

Meet Me In St. Louis is so light and fluffy that you almost expect it to float away. Like many forties musicals, it is about a world gone by - or perhaps one that never existed - where the biggest conflict is a crush on the boy next door, or whether or not the family will have to move from their beloved St. Louis to big, bad New York City. Everything will, of course, work out in the end. Every tear shed over an unrequited crush will be remedied with a sappy love song and an awkward kiss. Every childish prank will bring a lesson learned, every family conflict, a down-home happy ending. I’m not giving anything away. You know the minute each simple plot point is introduced how it will be resolved. So just go along for the sweet ride and enjoy some memorable songs and nice performances.

Most of the songs which you will recognize - "The Boy Next Door," "The Trolley Song," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"- are sung by Esther, the Judy Garland role, played here by Heather Parcells. Parcells, as the second-eldest Smith sister, has a strong and beautiful voice. She is lovely in the role and, to her credit, she never once borrows Garland’s style or phrasing. Shanara Gabrielle is also very strong as the eldest sister, Rose, who is trying to win the proposal of her hedging millionaire suitor. As nine-year-old Agnes and five-year-old Tootie, real-life sisters Danielle Nicole Piacentile and Gabrielle Joy Piacentile are terrific, with strong voices and great stage presences.

This not-for-profit company does a great job in the small space of the 45th Street Theatre, and I for one am enticed to check out some of their other events listed in the program and on their website, www.musicalstonight.org. Events this month include The Arts Hour @ Six, a series of topical lectures and concerts. Another that looks like great fun is called At This Performance, and features a rotating schedule of current musical hits performed by Broadway shows' understudies.

Backstage in Concert
Back Stage November 19, 2004
Reviewed by Victor Gluck

Although the 1944 MGM film "Meet Me in St. Louis," which combined the talents of Judy Garland and Vincente Minelli, is one of the five most famous MGM musicals, the 1990 Broadway stage production was a failure. In retrospect, it was greatly overproduced and overdecorated, drowning in sentimentality and cliché.

Director Thomas Mills has astutely stripped the Broadway version of its unnecessary trappings and returned to the intimate, character-driven story it originally was. Now it becomes obvious that Hugh Wheeler’s book successfully captures the spirit, wisdom, and humor of the film. The Hugh Martin-Ralph Blane film score has held up remarkably well, and unfamiliar songs such as "How Do I Look?" (cut before Broadway) and "A Touch of the Irish" and "A Day in New York" are worthy additions. Even Mills’ choreography seems much more authentic than the dances in the Broadway version. The result is one of the most enjoyable, entertaining, and moving musical experiences in a long time.

Once again, Stephen DeAngelis’ casting is perfection. Not only can all of the cast sing magnificently, they are totally believable as turn-of-the-century denizens. Whereas the film’s beauty was older sister Rose, DeAngelis has chosen to make Esther, the Garland role, the raving beauty, in the guise of Heather Parcells, who also has excellent comic instincts.

Rose, played by Shanara Gabrielle, is here the comic sidekick. Adorable Gabrielle Joy Piacentile as the five-year-old Tootie steals every scene she is in. Martina Vidmar’s Katie is a ball of fire, and William Tost’s Grandpa is heart-warming. Kayce Glasse and Tom Treadwell as the parents give able support, as do other siblings Stephen Brockway (Lon) and Danielle Nicole Piacentile (Agnes). Danny Rothman’s John Truitt and Warren Freeman’s Warren Sheffield make an interesting contrast as boyfriends.

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