Lon Smith has been offered a promotion that requires him to relocate himself and his family to New York. Lon’s family, especially his headstrong and troublemaking daughters, are dead set against the move. In trying to derail the move, Lon’s eldest child, Rose, ends up derailing his job. To find out how the family copes with this turn of events, watch Meet Me in St. Louis currently playing at Bellevue Little Theatre.
This show is unusual in that it first began life as a series of short stories by Sally Benson called The Kensington Stories in 1942 and these stories were later novelized under the title of Meet Me in St. Louis. Arthur Freed would convince Louis B. Mayer to buy the film rights and the stories were turned into a musical starring Judy Garland in 1944. Later, Christopher Sergel would turn the stories into a straight play. This production happens to be the straight play and it is very much a period piece. It does seem a bit stronger than others of its ilk as it isn’t quite so draggy as its counterparts. This production was also aided by a cast who were able to infuse the words and characters with some whimsy and charm.
Newcomer Jackson Newman really does get all that he can out of the script and any director that can manage to keep vibrancy with incredibly talky dialogue is clearly doing something right. Newman strikes the right emotional beats with his control of the dialogue and gets his cast to project a strong sense of family. He’s also led his cast to some effective performances and makes good use of the massive living room set. It never feels empty in any spot and actors are well staged and blocked and can be seen at all points.
There were some exceptional performances in the supporting cast. Chris Latta is an insufferable toady as Duffy. Dannika Rees just bleeds snobbery as Lucille Pentard. Randy Wallace amuses in the dual roles of the eccentric grandfather who claims he was once a king and as Lon’s blustering boss, Mr. Dodge.
This show had a real find in the form of Amy Wagner as Agnes. Wagner struck all the right notes as the bratty and defiant tomboy who plays some pretty dangerous and mean-spirited pranks. Wagner’s voice was clear and strong and could be heard throughout the theatre and her articulation was clear as a bell.
Francisco Franco is very sweet and fatherly as the family patriarch, Lon Smith. Franco brings a real gentleness to Smith who is fully aware that he doesn’t have much control over the behavior of his children. As such he uses persuasion and reason to convince his children of the soundness of his judgments as opposed to ordering them about. What I truly admired about his performance was that he didn’t get angry when his kids screwed things up, he got hurt. And his agony was more of a punishment to his children than his anger ever could hope to be.
Charity Williams imbues her Rose with the right blend of youth and nobility. Rose has many positive qualities such as determination and forthrightness. However, due to her youth, she can misuse these positive traits and can act with great idiocy. Her mouth tends to run away with her and she often acts before she thinks which can lead to a world of trouble. But sometimes her blitheness can save the day, too.
Joey Lorincz conjures yet another piece of theatrical magic with his gorgeous living room set that looks like it stepped right out of the early 1900s with its red patterned wallpaper and he closes the show with a colorful fireworks display shining through the living room window. Rebecca Krause has the living room filled with period correct furniture. Francisco Franco doubles up with sound design work with my favorite being a yowling cat used in a few gags. Todd Uhrmacher’s costumes suit the period with dapper vests and suits for the men and fancy dresses, hats, and gowns for the ladies.
There were a few squeaks in today’s performance. Pacing needed to be much quicker and cue pickups were lax. Some of the movements seemed a little too staged and needed to be more natural. Still, if you like a good vintage piece, then Meet Me in St. Louis will be right up your alley.
Meet Me in St. Louis runs through Nov 20. Showtimes are Fri-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets cost $25 and can be purchased at the Box Office, at blt.simpletix.com, or calling 402-413-8945. Bellevue Little Theatre is located at 203 W Mission Ave in Bellevue, NE.