You won’t find a more wholesome show in the entire county than the Welk Resort Theatre’s Meet Me in St. Louis. An appealing cast that looks as if everyone – man, woman and child – was thoroughly scrubbed with Ivory Soap sings, dances and smiles (a lot) in this theatrical adaptation of the 1944 musical film that starred Judy Garland. Meet Me in St. Louis is an unfailingly cheerful affair whose chief conflicts – “Will Esther and John get together?” and “Will mean ol Mr. Smith really move his family from to mean ol’ New York City?” – are light and predictably resolved.
As with the ’44 film, the show enjoys some undeniably fine tunes, none finer than “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” which became one of Garland’s signature film and live performances. Nostalgia buffs will tap their toes to “The Trolley Song” (clang clang clan goes the trolley …), arguably the second most famous number in the score. Quaint doesn’t begin to describe the presence of “Skip to My Lou” (yep, that one), sung during a square dance, and the musical’s title tune, the lyrics of which include We will dance the Hootchy-kootchy, I will be your tootsie wootsie. We’re talking folksy, folks.
Everyone in the sprawling cast is beautifully clad in turn of the (20th) century attire, and there’s some athletic dancing to the choreography of Karl Warden. As romance-hungry sisters Esther and Rose Smith, Chelsea Emma Franko and Sarah Errington are embraceable (Errington’s quite funny, too), and their obvious chemistry makes their sister act all the more delightful. The showiest of the male roles, that of the girls’ stern father, belongs to Eric Hellmers, whose sharp mustache almost has a life of its own. No surprise, he’s not really the grump that he appears to be.
Who could be grumpy, for Pete’s sake, in a show that depicts American family life the way it was idealized to have been in 1903, the year before the ’04 St. Louis World’s Fair? If you’re going through withdrawal because the holiday season is over, Meet Me in St. Louis could be just the anecdote you’re looking for. There’s a shiny Christmas tree on the stage and merriment to spare.
David L. Coddon is theater critic for San Diego CityBeat