Friday, 27 December 2013

Theatre review: Meet Me In St Louis

A 1944 Judy Garland film a couple of whose songs became enduring standards, the 1989 stage adaptation evidently didn't become quite as iconic, as it's only getting its UK premiere 26 years later. I'm not huge on old-fashioned musicals but Robert McWhir at the Landor has a good track record with them so Meet Me In St Louis was a good bet for a bit of a break over Christmas. Apparently based on a number of short stories, it's evident in the rather vague storyline that follows the Smith family of St Louis over the year 1903, as they anticipate the World's Fair opening in their town the following year. Along the way the two eldest daughters fall in love, and as Christmas approaches they face the possibility of having to leave the place they were born as their father plans to move the family to New York.

If you're not expecting anything too cutting-edge Meet Me In St Louis provides perfect festive fare, and although it's inevitably a cheese-fest that's what you're here for. Plus, Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane's songs are better than expected: Many big musicals have little to recommend them beyond the big standards, but here most times the cast break into song there's something to tap your feet along to.

So as well as the well-known numbers like "The Trolley Song" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" there's fun to be had with "The Boy Next Door" and the big dance showstopper "The Banjo." (A banjo does feature in the latter, although I wasn't sure it was actually being used; I mentioned this on Twitter and the show's MD Michael Webborn replied that the banjo is being played and he can hear it every night; it wasn't audible from where I was sitting though.)

Georgia Permutt is very good as leading lady Esther Smith, whose romance with the boy next door John Truitt (Piers Bate) forms the core storyline, and is in strong voice performing the lion's share of the big numbers. Also good is Emily Jeffreys as oldest sister Rose, although Hugh Wheeler's book doesn't really do much to flesh out her relationship with millionaire Warren Sheffield (Thomas Judd.) This is simple, seasonal family fun, and you'll come out of it humming the title song - there's much better ones in the show but that one gets about 37 reprises, so that's the one you'll be stuck with.

Meet Me In St Louis by Hugh Martin, Ralph Blane and Hugh Wheeler is booking until the 18th of January at the Landor Theatre.

Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes including interval.

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