Theatre Review: ‘Meet Me In St. Louis’ at American Repertory Theatre Of Western New York

“Meet Me In St. Louis” is the much loved story of the Smith family’s adventures in the early 20th century in St. Louis, Missouri. The stories, which were written by Sally Benson, were turned into a golden age of Hollywood musical in 1944. The film starred Judy Garland and Margaret O’Brien and featured a lovely score by  Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane which included “The Trolley Song,” “The Boy Next Door,” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Over the years, “Meet Me in St. Louis” has also been produced as a TV show and a Broadway musical. ART of WNY is presenting it now in another art form, as a radio play.

The American Repertory Theatre of WNY’s production of “Meet Me In St. Louis” is being performed in the newly reopened Theatreloft space on Elmwood Avenue at Anderson Place. There’s quite a history to this facility! It was the original home of Jane Keeler’s Studio Theatre in 1927. More recently, the Ujima Theatre Company performed at Theatreloft. It’s nice to see the space being used again.

The pretense of this production is that it is 1940 and “Meet Me In St. Louis” is being performed as a radio play before a live studio audience. “Applause” and “On the Air” signs are used to good effect. The concept gets a bit muddled as the evening progresses, and the actors drop their music stands and scripts to sing and dance all over the stage. The radio actor characters who were established at the top of the show also get lost in the shuffle.

The evening’s standout performance is by Candace Kogut who would be perfect casting as Rose, the oldest sister, in any production of “Meet Me in St. Louis.” Ms. Kogut’s singing and acting are on target throughout and she strikes the right tone for slightly over the top old-fashioned radio performing. The role of Rose is much larger in this production than it is in the film version.

Joe Russi as the juvenile lead has the production’s best singing voice, and his reprise of “The Boy Next Door” is one of the evening’s highlights. Courtney Maj, in the Judy Garland role, is pretty and sweet but stuck throughout the evening in a prim and unflattering dark costume. Ms. Maj’s singing voice is hard to hear. She isn’t helped, however, by having to sing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” virtually in the dark.

In the film, Tootie is delightfully precocious and everyone’s favorite. In this production, Kelly O’Hara gives the role a harsh edge.

Joseph Spahn does a yeoman like job — singing, acting, and providing the evening’s sound effects.

This production is light on the dialogue and heavy on the songs. It’s almost a musical revue. The score of “Meet Me In St. Louis” is peppered with early American folk songs and Christmas carols and there’s even a tap dance! The production is best musically when the entire ensemble sings together.

Running Time: 2 Hours with one intermission.

“Meet Me In St. Louis” runs until December 22, 2018. For more information, click here.