In 1944, MGM's musical Meet Me in St. Louis lit up the sliver screen beyond expectations and broke box-office records to become one of the studio's biggest hits of the time, second only to Gone With the Wind. Not only did it delight audiences nationwide, it solidified Judy Garland's stature as a major movie star.
More than four decades later, it became a musical stage production, opening on Broadway at the George Gershwin Theatre on Nov. 2, 1989, with the curtain last closing on June 10, 1990, after 252 shows. But the curtain is about to go up again, at least locally, when the Show Palace Dinner Theatre kicks off its fall season on Sept. 30.
Local audiences can once again step back in time to 1903 with the loving Smith family of St. Louis when the city's abuzz with the upcoming World's Fair set for the following spring.
"It's great. We're trying to bring as much of the movie into it as we can," said Susan Haldeman, Show Palace's managing director and production stage manager. "If you loved that, you'll love this."
The story follows the Smith family as they — and the city they love — anticipate the Louisiana Purchase Exposition World's Fair of 1904. The well-to-do family is composed of Mr. and Mrs. Smith; Lon Jr., a Princeton freshman; and his four beautiful sisters, including Garland's role of Esther, who falls in love with the boy next door. Esther's sisters are little Tootie (Show Palace favorite Megan Sell) the youngest, who with Agnes, enjoys mischievous adventures; and Rose, who awaits a marriage proposal. They are all shocked when their father announces he has a promising job opportunity — in New York — and they will soon be moving. They are reluctant to move from their city, their young men and the long-awaited fair.
The seasons of the year also play an important role in this musical, said director Matthew McGee, and the scenes are beautiful. The audience is sure to be enchanted.
"We have a real live trolley that rolls out onto the stage," he said.
The musical was adapted from the movie, which was taken from a series of short stories published in The New Yorker by Sally Benson. The musical retains the nostalgic feel of the movie, McGee said.
"Everyone knows the movie, the MGM film, which is what everyone loves," McGee said, adding that his production will give the audience much of what made the film so beloved, but on a live stage. "The same heart-warming and comic story."
The live show however, gives the audience a bit more with additional songs and musical numbers.
"We put more dance in the show, so we've made the dances a lot bigger," McGee said.
In addition to dazzling the audience with show-stopping choreography, Meet Me In St. Louis also features a score that includes the standards, The Trolley Song and Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, both of which were introduced to the world by Judy Garland in the Academy Award-nominated film version.
Haldeman said there couldn't be a better choice for the role of Esther than Show Palace newcomer Krista Severeid.
"She's beautiful. Her smile lights up the entire room," Haldeman said. "She has a beautiful voice."
Severeid said this is her first time stepping into a Garland role, but she's knows Meet Me in St. Louis very well.
"I've seen the movie umpteen million times growing up. I'd make sure I'd watch it every Christmas," she said with a giggle, adding she's excited to step into an idol's shoes. "I can't really do it without the spirit of Judy speaking through me."