Kylie Kuioka, as Tootie
Me in St. Louis
Thanks to the Irish Repertory Theatre,
theatergoers could shed their pandemic blues over the holidays and re-acquaint
themselves with the heart-warming classic, Meet Me in St. Louis. Adapted
and directed by Charlotte Moore, the old chestnut took on a fresh look and
flavor, with its “green screen” wizardry and talented cast.
you need a refresher on the story, here it is in a nutshell: An early 20th-century
St. Louis family, on the cusp of seeing their hometown host the 1904 World’s
Fair, struggle with the reality of leaving their beloved city when
paterfamilias Alonzo Smith gets transferred to New York. The family try their
best to pack up their belongings without getting teary-eyed for their Midwest
home. But, as they get closer and closer to moving day, they realize that it’s
not easy to say “goodbye” to those they love (including some “new flames”) and
the places they hold dear.
the other virtual offerings from the Irish Rep this season, I was wondering if
this digital production would measure up to the same high quality of technical
innovation and know-how of their earlier shows. Well, not to worry. This Meet
Me in St. Louis delivered in spades.
Shereen Ahmed, as Esther
nothing that replaces seeing a show in a brick-and-mortar theater. But the
Irish Rep has so seamlessly mastered the art of filming and editing remotely
(the company has utilized “green screens” to make cast members seem as if they
were performing in the same physical space) that their virtual productions this
season have been real testaments to what technology and the human imagination
can achieve. And Meet Me in St. Louis may well be the capstone of their
digital offerings to date.
reason, of course, that this revival sparkled so bright was that Moore was at
the helm with a steady hand. Moore smartly abridged the text of the lavish
1989 Broadway musical adaptation (book by Hugh Wheeler) for her new streamlined
version. The Broadway production was based on Sally Benson’s Kensington
Stories and—you guessed it-- the MGM motion picture Meet Me in St. Louis
(starring Judy Garland as Esther Smith).
kept in the show’s most popular tunes, including “The Trolley Song,” “The Boy
Next Door,” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” (songs by Hugh Martin
and Ralph Blane, music direction by John Bell, and orchestrations by Josh
Clayton). While each song in the musical has its own magic, who can resist
that tear-jerker “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” (sensitively sung by
Shereen Ahmed) in Act 2.
Max Von Essen, as John
forgiven if you didn’t know that Moore, a two-time Tony-nominated actor, played
the mother in the 1989 Broadway musical or that the Irish Repertory Theatre
last presented Meet Me in St. Louis in 2007. After all, it’s
difficult to keep up with all that Moore has artistically accomplished over the
years since she left her Southern Illinois home (she got her master’s degree at
Washington University in St. Louis) and settled in New York. But, that said,
there’s no question that Moore’s deep familiarity with Meet Me in St. Louis
enabled her to make it virtually hum and hum it did.
direction was excellent, the acting was spot on. Rufus Collins, as Alonzo
Smith, projected the necessary authority as the family’s paterfamilias.
Melissa Errico, as Alonzo’s wife Anna, balanced the strength and submissiveness
that her maternal role demanded. Ali Ewoldt, performed the oldest
daughter Rose, with just the right amount of poise. Shereen Ahmed played the
slightly younger daughter Esther with the perfect blend of grace and grit.
Pint-sized actors, Austyn Johnson and Kylie Kuioka, playing the two younger
daughters Agnes and Tootie, respectively, were appropriately feisty. There was
more acting muscle flexed with Max von Essen, William Bellamy, Ian Holcomb, and
Jay Aubrey Jones performing John Truitt, Lon Smith, Warren Sheffield, and Grandpa,
respectively. And let’s not forget Kathy Fitzgerald, as the maid Katie, who
infused genuine Irish spirit into her role.
Let’s hear it
for old-fashioned, feel-good musicals like Meet Me in St. Louis!
Indeed, nothing held a candle to it over the holidays. It was a family show
with something for everyone, with its romancing, childhood pranks, family
misunderstandings (and make-ups). And, oh yes. For bringing this delicious classic
back to New York during a most difficult time, let’s raise a toast to Moore—and
the entire cast and creative team.
Meet Me In St. Louis
December 11, 2020 – January 2, 2021
Running time: 85 minutes
For more information on the Irish Repertory
Theatre and their upcoming productions and events, visit www.irishrep.org.