Holidays arrive early in ‘Meet Me in St. Louis’
November 3, 2009
By Chantelle Lusebrink
It’s time to deck the halls and stoke the hearth — the holidays are coming to Village Theatre.
Village Theatre’s cast and crew are taking audiences back to a time when horse and buggies were the mode of travel, home telephones were still novel, the World’s Fair was on the tips of all tongues and first love was anything but easy.
Welcome to St. Louis in 1904 as Village Theatre presents “Meet Me in St. Louis,” Nov. 11 through Jan. 3.
“The holidays are time for family. It’s a time when people think about their families, going home or having people over. The holidays are a time to reconnect with family,” said Steve Tomkins, artistic director for Village Theatre. “Really, what this show is about is the interaction of the family.
“It is delightful and energizing.”
Featuring fantastic classics, like “Meet Me in St. Louis, Louis,” “The Boy Next Door,” “Skip to My Lou” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” the musical is sure to keep your toes tapping and leave you with a song in your heart.
“The rehearsal process has been delightful,” Tomkins said. “It’s a really fun show to stage and a really good group of people to work with.
“I have yet to sit through the ‘Skip to My Lou’ number and not be beaming after.”
But bringing a film musical that’s memorable to so many is not an easy task, he said.
“The challenge is how to make a movie musical work on stage,” he said, remembering seeing Judy Garland’s big red lips in a close up shot in the show in 1976. “It’s the little things that we have to catch, the nuances made for movies, and bring them to the stage.”
Much of his fears were alleviated when the cast was chosen. Though she isn’t Garland, Tomkins said he believes it’s Ryah Nixon’s time to shine.
“Had Ryah been born 50 years earlier, she would have been an MGM musical recording star,” Tomkins said about the 22-year-old Nixon, who plays the role of Esther. “She is really a good fit for the part. She’s not Judy Garland. She’s Ryah Nixon and it works for this character.”
Nixon last appeared locally as Princess Amneris in “Aida” during the 2007-08 season.
“I’d say what’s difficult is structuring a character that incorporates all of the things that Judy did to make the character so timeless and memorable, without doing a caricature of her Esther,” Nixon said. “Esther is so close to me in age that it’s wonderful to find what similarities we have when it comes to energy, spunk and falling in love.”
As Esther tumbles into love with the boy next door, John Truitt, played by Jason Kappus, her hopes for a happy ending are dashed by the sudden threat of a family move.
Tomkins said he was also thrilled to cast Analiese Emerson Guettinger, now appearing in The 5th Avenue Theatre’s “Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat,” as Tootie.
“St. Louis” boasts 26 cast members.
Unlike film where panning, closeups and fade-outs help tell a story, the creative team at Village Theatre has had to find ways to transition the story without losing the feeling of closeness the audience experiences with the characters.
So, they’ve come up with creative solutions, dramatic sets and more than 122 costumes to keep you hanging on your seats. One surprise Tomkins revealed was how they plan to make “The Trolley Song” sing.
“We have a young and physically energetic cast, so in the design, we’ve made the trolley strong, so the kids can climb all over it,” he said.
As a theater production, the cast has the opportunity to explore subplots, like that of the brother Lon Smith Jr., played by John David Scott, while adding to the story’s overall depth.
“It’s not a remake of the movie,” he said. “We’ve tried to capture the essence of the movie, which is so familiar, but it is our show.”
“It’s the perfect holiday show with the most timeless songs and everyone can identify with at least one character onstage,” Nixon said. “You will leave in the holiday spirit and adore the big company dances.”
If you go
‘Meet Me in St. Louis’
Nov. 11 – Jan. 3
$19 – $59
Francis J. Gaudette Theatre
303 Front St. N.