Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Meet Me In St. Louis—Gallery Theater—McMinnville, OR

Skipping Back In Time


This classic musical is based on the film by the same name, written by Hugh Martin, Ralph Blane and Hugh Wheeler which, in turn, is based on “The Kensington Stories” by Sally Benson.  It is directed by Elizabeth Pullen and Ken Moore, choreography by Stephanie Belt-Verhoef and piano accompaniment by Brynn Hurdus.  It is playing at their location at 210 NE Ford St. in McMinnville through December 14th.  For further information, go to www.gallerytheater.org.

This play is based on the terrific MGM musical directed by Vincent Minnelli (Liza’s father) and starring Judy Garland and Margeret O’Brien.  It has some now known standard songs such as, “Skip to the Lou,” “Under the Bamboo Tree,” the “Trolley Song,” “The First Noel,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and, of course, the title song.  It is the story of the Smith family of Missouri from about the summer of 1903 through the Spring of 1904, the World’s Fair.


The Gallery Theater is a community-oriented theatre for 45 years in a close-knit town, so it seems fitting that this play, with old-fashioned family values, should be presented here.  One can wax-nostalgic as this mid-west family takes us on a brief tour of what life was like without cell phones, cable TV, computers, smog, gangs and jets.  Instead, there was ice-cream socials, bandstands, trolleys, soda fountains, community dances and actual one-on-one human contact with each other.  Forced to choose between the two, I opt for the latter.


The story follows the adventures of the Smith family.  The parents are Alonzo (Dave Ferry) and his wife, Anna (Kelly Ashton).  The two oldest sibs are Rose (Jamie Corff), looking for a possible beau in Warren (Justin Jenks) and Lon (Caleb Janzen), going off to college at Princeton.  Esther (Jordan Ferry) is in high school but find her possible mate in the boy-next-door, John (Ethan Keleher).  Agnes (Makayla Norwood) is still in grammar school, and the youngest, and most impish, is Tootie (Zoe Corff).  To round out the household is the somewhat eccentric Grandpa (Don Myatt) and the outspoken, Irish maid, Katie (Alice Darnton).


The family has its ups and downs but there is obviously a lot of love encompassing this clan.  It follows seasonally their lives through Independence Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and, finally, the World’s Fair of 1904.  It peeks in on the flirtations of Esther and John, the long-distant romance, of Rose and Warren, the eccentricities of the non-conforming Grandfather and the devilish escapades of Tootie and Agnes.  But the major stumbling block the family encounters during this period, is the fact that the father has been offered a promotion in the firm but they will be forced to move to New York City and, probably, a more progressive lifestyle for all of them.


But, like such classics of the time, such as, I Remember Mama, Life With Father and The Music Man, there was no real mystery of how things would turn out.  The tried-and-true ways of love and family will prevail and happily-ever-after is still in vogue as an ending.  Everlasting is truly…everlasting.


Both Dave Ferry and Ashton as the parents are in fine voice and convincing.  Janzen, as the affable son, has an easy manner in his songs and dancing.  As the youngest members of the tribe, Norwood and Zoe Corff are appropriately impish in their performances.  And there is a nice, comic turn by Colton Price as he plays three misfit schoolboys, one after another.  And Kira Weaver is a fine dancer and singer and shines in the chorus.


The standouts for me, though, were Jamie Corff as Rose.  She is an attractive, young lady and handles both singing and acting chores with confidence.  Darnton, as the feisty maid, added brashness and charm to the proceedings and is also in good voice.  And Hurdus, as the pianist, is amazing, tackling this difficult score by herself.


It’s refreshing to see actual teenagers play the roles of Esther (Jordan Ferry) and John (Keleher).  The awkwardness and angst of those teen years shows through.  But, also, as young performers, the inexperience shows through at time, too. Ferry is a bit unsure of herself sometimes but has the look and feel for the role.  But, Keleher, in particular, seems stiff and, at times, and speaks in monotones, as he portrays his character.  But with such a supportive group in this theatre, I’m sure they will both blossom as performers in years to come.


And the costumes by Antonia Osterhout are outstanding.  The vibrant colors and styles of the period are beautifully represented here.  The set design by Moore is amazing and has a terrific trolley in a key scene.  The World’s Fair skyline is a wonderful ending to the show.  One would think we are indeed transported back in time (reserve a space for me).  The direction by Moore and Pullen fits this group nicely, giving us the warmth of the era, and, obviously, reflected by the love of it from the cast.


I would recommend this show, especially as a gift for the whole family, during this holiday period.  And may we all find that lazy pace and “…Huckleberry friend…” within this modern age.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.