Meet Me in St Louis continues at the Landor Theatre, London until 18 January.
A perennial favourite 1944 MGM movie starring a young Judy Garland, Meet Me in St Louis is filled with memorable musical numbers, whimsical family comedy and features the artistic direction of Vincente Minnelli, then making his mark in Hollywood. It is on the set of this movie that he and Garland met for the first time and the rest is history.
Rather like Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, Meet Me In St Louis was a product of the silver screen and it was only later in its history, 1989 in fact, that the movie was adapted for the stage with extra songs written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane who had penned the originals. This adaptation is fairly faithful to the original, which is arguably its biggest drawback, as the screenplay is fairly episodic in nature and lacks a cohesive dramatic thread.
This said, there are some perfectly enchanting, nostalgic moments in the stage production and director Robert McWhir, a master of bringing big shows to an intimate stage, finds the key points of the story and adds his own particular brand of theatre magic, focusing on the big musical numbers, careful casting and simple settings.
In the daunting role of Esther Smith, famously played by Garland in the movie, Georgia Permutt captures the hope, joy and relative innocence of the young girl on the cusp of adulthood. Permutt’s confidence in the role helps bind the show together and provides two of the highlights, including the economically staged ‘Trolley Song’ and the desperately sweet ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’, although on stage the focus is on family, not on Esther.
Emily Jeffreys as the eldest daughter Rose has some wonderful moments as she vies for the attentions of Thomas Judd’s Warren Sheffield, while Emily Carewe-Jeffries as Agnes and Rebecca Barry as Tootie are perfection as the youngest members of the family. Barry, as the most outspoken member of the Smiths, is in danger of stealing focus on occasion. However, McWhir will keep that in check, and the young actress has to be praised for such great comedy. Samuel Pope as Lon, the only son of the Smith family, is a levelling presence throughout and something of an antidote to the effervescence of his siblings on stage.
Bryan Kennedy as the head of the house Alonso, and Nova Skipps, his understanding wife, provide sterling support in charming, almost cameo roles as the long suffering parents. Piers Bate puts his boy-next-door looks to good use as John Truett and pulls off arguably the most under-written role in the show with supreme self-confidence. There is also strong support from Carolyn Allen as the ’Oirish cook Katie and a neat turn by Tom Murphy as Grandpa Prophater.
Robbie O’Reilly’s choreography seems hampered occasionally and begs to be free of the restraints of Francisco Rodriguez-Weil’s set design. The riotous ‘Skip to My Lou’ aches to escape the restrictions of a small stage and the occasionally intrusive centre panel, but eventually the two combine to provide a little magic as Esther finally gets to dance with her ‘Boy Next Door’.
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