Monday, Dec 11, 2017
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PEACH WEEKENDER | THEATER

'Meet Me in St. Louis' opens at Croswell

  • Meet-Me-in-St-Louis-Rehearsal-Shots-Nov-17-2017

    Sarah Hodgman of Tecumseh, playing Esther Smith, leads the cast of 'Meet Me in St. Louis' in 'The Trolley Song.' 'Meet Me in St. Louis' opens Nov. 25 at the Croswell Opera House in Adrian.

    James A. Molnar

  • Meet-Me-in-St-Louis-Rehearsal-Shots-Nov-17-2017-1

    George Reasoner of Tecumseh as Grandpa, Crosby Slupe of Adrian as Lon Smith, and Abby Knight of Adrian as Agnes Smith are pictured in a scene from 'Meet Me in St. Louis' at the Croswell Opera House.

    James A. Molnar

The Croswell Opera House takes its audiences back to another time with its holiday season production, the musical Meet Me in St. Louis, opening Saturday. 

The year is 1903, a time when making a long-distance call is a big deal, girls fall in love with the boy next door, and the slang of that era might require a translator today.

Based on the 1944 MGM film of the same name that starred Judy Garland, Meet Me in St. Louis opened on Broadway in 1989, offering the story of a year in the life of the Smith family, who are looking forward to being amazed by the wonders of the 1904 World’s Fair, opening in their town.  

The songs in Meet Me in St. Louis include  “The Boy Next Door,” “The Trolley Song,” and what has become a holiday classic, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Wynne Marsh, the music director, will lead a 21-piece live orchestra.

“It’s a fun, wholesome story full of songs you know and love,” said Jere Righter, the Croswell’s artistic director. “It’s a perfect show for the holidays because it’s all about family.”

Alonso and Anna Smith have five children: daughters Rose, Esther (played by Judy Garland in the film), Agnes, and Tootie, and a son, Lon. Esther thinks she’s in love with the boy next door, John Truitt, with whom she has yet to speak. Lon, who is going to attend Princeton University, brings his friend Douglas Moore home for dinner, and Rose falls for him. Everyone is distracted by the antics of the youngest daughters, Agnes and Tootie.

One day, Alonso comes home and upsets his happy family with the announcement that they will be moving to New York. They’ll miss their home, and the World’s Fair!

Matthew Bowland, the Croswell’s director, says Meet Me in St. Louis has elements of the Broadway musicals of the past. It is more traditional than theater today, where the focus is often on edgy storylines and complex subjects, and incorporating different styles of music.

“This is going back to the roots of Broadway musicals where the story is of love and boy meets girl, with no central villain,” he said. “It’s a nice coming-of-age story about a family at the turn of the century.”

Bowland was drawn to directing the Croswell’s production of Meet Me in St. Louis because he portrayed Lon in the show when he was a senior at Genoa High School and became fascinated with the 1904 World’s Fair. He said he hopes the show inspires others to look into its history. “It was a way for people to see what was going to be happening in the world; they didn’t have the instantaneous fulfillment of the Internet.

“The fact that Esther is in love with the young man next door, who she’s never met, seems kind of silly to us today, when we can connect with someone on the other side of the earth instantly via Facebook or messaging.”

The differences between then and now have provided some fun and educational moments in working with the Croswell cast, Bowland said, citing the fact that in Meet Me in St. Louis getting a long-distance call is exciting, and some of the turn of the century slang is incomprehensible to young people today.

Sarah Hodgman, the young actress who portrays Esther in the Croswell’s shows, can cite an example. 

“Esther has a line where she is hypothetically speaking to John and doesn’t believe he’s going out to play baseball; she thinks he’s making excuses to avoid her, so Esther says, ‘Baseball, my foot!’ ”  

Hodgman thought that meant she was supposed to trip over something onstage and hurt her foot, until Bowland explained it’s like saying “Yeah, right!” today. “Now when I deliver the line I’m very sassy.” 

Despite the occasional “language barrier,” Hodgman is delighted to portray Esther because she likes playing strong characters, showing the different sides of their personalities and evolution into an independent person.

Bowland said he believes that the show may prompt conversations among audiences of different ages. Things are so incredibly different today, he said, but the show’s central themes of love and family remain relevant.

Performances of Meet Me in St. Louis are 7:30 p.m Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday at the Croswell Opera House, 129 E. Maumee St., Adrian. Additional shows are 7:30 p.m. Dec. 1 and Dec. 2 and 2:30 p.m. Dec. 3; 7:30 p.m. Dec. 9,  and 2:30 p.m. Dec. 10. General admission tickets are $35, $25, and $15; All seats for children 15 and under are $15. Tickets are from 517-264-7469 and croswell.org.

Contact Sue Brickey at sbrickey@theblade.com.

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