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BWW Review: MEET ME IN ST LOUIS at the Hale

BWW Review: MEET ME IN ST LOUIS at the Hale

The Hale's newest offering is a holiday confection - sweet and delicious - like a freshly shaken up, edible snow globe. Director Cambrian James has put together his finest (thus far) staging of the season. On the marvelous arena stage in Gilbert, the tight, swift-paced send up of the classic 1944 film is enchanting, from overture to finale.

As with the view through a snow globe's glass, there is a soft fuzziness to the scene. The women are not so tightly corseted as they were in 1903, the men's collars are not as stiff and the little girls' plaits aren't so severely braided. Mary Atkinson's sumptuous costumes - as much a character as any of the humans in the show - allow for deep breaths and eager, generous movement.

The scenery, properties and lighting all buoy up the story - each entrance of the legendary trolley elicits audible appreciation from the audience.

The ensemble works beautifully together - all are at ease in their various and sundry roles. There are standouts - mostly by virtue of the size of their roles - but all are excellent.

As Esther Smith, a silly girl who falls in love with the boy next door before they meet, Holly Payne's acting is, in this critic's view, every bit as good as Garland's in the film. Let's face it, the role is not the most dimensionally composed. What is astonishing is that Payne's voice is even more glorious than the icon's. (Yes, I know. It can't be. But it is.)

As Esther's father, Alonso Smith, Rob Stuart transcends his role's simple purview. A Valley Theatre stalwart, Stuart brings both a good-natured gravitas and a heartbreaking sense of paternal responsibility to the stage. This critic remembers him as Cratchit some years ago in the Hale's green Christmas Carol, when his rendering of What Child is This? brought her to tears. He is splendid.

The ridiculously clever and talented Allan DeWitt returns (still running in rep with Kiss and Tell) as the Smith's lone male offspring. Lon Smith is not a great role, but DeWitt makes it more than the sum of its parts - he has the arduous task of selling one of the most godawful numbers ever written for the stage, and has us giggling all the way through it. In addition to being a great actor, DeWitt holds his own as a dancer, and has a wonderful voice.

Stephen Serna is back and is every bit as entertaining as he was as the Pharaoh in the Hale's season opener, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. As Warren Sheffield, Serna comes off like a young, reckless Clark Gable - tousled and dashing.

As the young Smith daughters, both Katie Brown as Agnes and Lily Nelson as Tootie are dynamite.

James' choreography is great fun, and Lincoln Wright's musical direction is terrific.

Yes, there are some bad wigs - that seems to be a requisite in this Valley (ugh!), and the body mics are a distraction. Some of the staging is too much at 90 degrees, and there are times when we can't see the actors' faces for too long during intimate moments. But the production is a triumph, overall, and when the curtain call happened, this critic found herself on her feet, and in tears.

If you love delightful old fashioned American musicals, you won't want to miss the Hale's Meet Me in St. Louis.

Meet Me in St. Louis continues at Hale Centre Theatre through November 25th. Tickets are $32 for adults and $20 for youth ages 5-17. Obtain tickets by calling Hale's box office at 480-497-1181 or online at www.HaleTheatreArizona.com.


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From This Author Jeanmarie Simpson