By Karen Isaacs
In the mood for a sweet, heart-warming musical that has only a tangential connection to Christmas?
Meet Me in St. Louis is just the ticket. The Irish Rep is streaming a production of the musical through Jan. 1.
You probably recall the Judy Garland movie and the song “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” which was introduced in the film.
But you may not know that the film became a stage musical in 1989 and has been performed (and revised) over the years. The Irish Rep did a production of it in 2007.
For this production, director Charlotte Moore (who actually played Mother in the original Broadway production) has further adapted the show to fit the necessities of streaming. Since the performers were each filmed in different locations, group dance numbers are omitted and some songs were removed. Moore provides useful narration to help set the story.
This is an old-fashioned show with a plot more like those of the early ‘20s than anything from the last fifty years. It focuses on young women plotting to get their men, along with the women easily taking offense and getting angry for no reason.
It is St. Louis in 1904 and all are anxiously awaiting the opening of the world’s fair the next spring. The two older daughters of the Smith family are both in the throes of young love – the oldest Rose is expecting a proposal from her beau, Warren Sheffield and Esther is infatuated with the boy next door, John Truitt who recently moved in.
Act one is about a variety of complications and misunderstandings, including the two youngest daughters (Katie and Tootie) accusing John of hitting Tootie. Act two resolves the romances; you can rest assure both girls get their men, and the family’s distress over moving to New York City right after Christmas, because the father is taking over the law firm’s office there.
Direction and the performers are very important when there is such a simplistic plot. This is the rose-colored picture of upper middle class America at the turn of the 20th century.
The Irish Rep has a fine cast; though occasionally the younger performers look too old for their parts. Except for Austyn Johnson as Agnes and Kylie Kuioka as Tootie, the other young people look older than their late teens or even early 20s. On the stage it wouldn’t be so obvious, but with the close ups of the camera, it is.
Yet that is a minor problem; you can suspend your disbelief. What the performers have is the ability to create the characters and to put over the songs.
It’s the music that counts and in this respect, the cast couldn’t be more perfect. Most are seasoned Broadway performers: Shereen Ahmed was playing Eliza Doolittle in the national tour and Max Von Essen has a long list of musical credits. They capture the young Esther and John perfectly: Esther plotting to meet him and John unsure and a bit reticent.
The other lovers –Ali Ewoldt as Rose and Ian Holcomb as Warren – manage the somewhat one-dimensional characters well. Warren is caring and steady and Rose is flighty.
Melissa Errico is wonderful as Mother in “You’ll Hear a Bell” and in “Wasn’t It Fun?” with Rufus Collins as her husband.
Charles Corcoran has created a fine set that shows us the home, the front porch and the trolley. The sound design by M. Florian Staab which brings the entire cast together for several songs is excellent. Tracy Christensen is billed as the costume consultant. Overall the costumes help create the period with one glaring exception – Rose at one point is wearing a sleeveless dress. Not something that was done in 1904.
You will enjoy this light-hearted musical. It shows you what can be done in our time of quarantine.
Visit IrishRep.org for tickets.