Family fare comes to area stage for holiday happiness

‘Meet Me in St. Louis’ has been theater classic for decades

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With the 20th century barely under way, St. Louis residents, including the Smith family, were excited at the prospect of the 1904 World’s Fair, which ran from April 30 to Dec. 1, 1904. Also called “The Louisiana Purchase Exposition,” it celebrated the century since that nation-forming transaction was negotiated by Thomas Jefferson and others.

Writer Sally Benson had published a series of “Kensington Stories” stories in 1941 in the New Yorker, which offered the framework for the movie musical, “Meet Me in St. Louis,” the background for the stage musical, with book by Hugh Wheeler and songs by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane.

It’s perfect family fare for the holidays, as presented at Town Hall Arts Center in Littleton through December, with a pleasing score and a story about appealing Smith family members ranging from little Tootie to spirited Grandpa. All are eagerly anticipating the fair, but with different expectations …

There’s “The Boy Next Door” who capture’s Esther Smith’s fancy and the wall-mounted telephone as an aid to romance for sister Rose …

“Clang, clang clang!” The catchy “Trolley Song” presents an issue for scenic designers and is cleverly resolved onstage in this production by experienced designer Michael R. Duran as residents ride and harmonize.

Hanging over the family’s happiness is the prospect of a move to New York City, due to father’s business interests. With romance in the air and reluctance towards change foremost, the family dithers and fusses — and sings.

Casting is strong and voices blend smoothly throughout, with Anne Jenness as teen Esther Smith and Kara Morrissey as older sister Rose, both juggling romances, while brother Lon (Matt Fontaine) bounces through the house, seemingly oblivious to their issues. Wee Tootie Smith (Macaelle Vasquez, a St. Mary’s second-grader) tends to steal her scenes with some regularity and Hadley Brown plays next-in-line sister Agnes.

Caitlin Conklin and Rich Cadwallader are parents of this brood and Town Hall veteran Kevin Walton is good-natured Grandpa Prophater. (Walton has performed, previously with one or another of his now-grownup kids, in many THAC musicals.)

Audiences will enjoy the familiar music and Kelly Kates’ imaginative choreography as the story circles through several sorts of situations and ends up with St. Louis remaining home base after all.

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