BWW Reviews: OSTC Charms with Tuneful, Heartwarming MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS
Ocean State Theatre Company joins Rhode Island's growing chorus of Christmastime theatricals with its staging of Meet Me in St. Louis. This sweet, song-filled production is only partially set during the holiday season, but its storyline - which centers around home, family, and first loves - reflects the most heartwarming characteristics of the Christmas spirit in every scene.
The first act of St. Louis introduces the Smith family and the day-to-day domestic happenings that shape the household's interactions. For the three older children, these include a coming transition from childhood to adulthood. Only son Lon (Michael Luongo) is enjoying his last summer at home before starting his freshman year in college. Rose (Hannah Spacone) lives in anticipation of a marriage proposal from her long-time beau, Warren Sheffield (Roger Reed), while Esther (Sarah Pothier) has fallen hard for John Truitt (Joshua Stenseth), the painfully-shy boy who just moved next door. In addition, the city-wide excitement for the coming 1904 St. Louis World's Fair simmers in the background of each early scene and song.
And songs there are, aplenty. Meet Me in St. Louis is packed with musical numbers from curtain to curtain, each one further developing character and aiding in exposition. Many of the songs ("Skip to My Lou," "Under the Bamboo Tree," "The Banjo") are paired with high-energy, thoroughly-enjoyable dance numbers staged by director/choreographer Gary John La Rosa.
The sheer quantity of song and dance in St. Louis is impressive, but OSTC's cast more than meets the challenges of the production with undeniable quality. As is the Company's wont, Ocean State has assembled an outstanding cast of performers, from the very youngest members to the most seasoned veterans, and they bring lovely harmonies and effortless energy to every aspect of their performances.
Esther Smith's storyline sits at the very heart of St. Louis, and Pothier is simply superb in this central role. From her first scenes, Pothier presents Esther as a fully-realized character, brimming with personality and vivaciousness; she also captures an "on-the-brink" aspect as Esther matures and gradually leaves childish squabbles and teenage pranks behind. Pothier has an undeniably lovely singing voice and moves beautifully in all of her dance numbers. She brings sparkling energy to "The Trolley Song," and her rendition of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" is so genuine, it can move an audience to tears.
Pothier and Stenseth work especially well together to develop Esther and John's halting romance. The boy-meets-girl setup in act one provides for adorable romantic comedy, but both actors take their rapport to a new level as the storyline progresses, allowing the show's ten-month timeframe to realistically mature the pair from first infatuation to a true bond of love.
While Esther is clearly the focus of the story, her sister Rose is no shrinking violet, and Spacone brings lots of fun to her portrayal of this feisty young lady, particularly in her affected airs and highfalutin' French words and phrases. Stacey Geer also commands the spotlight as family housekeeper, Katie, enjoying some of the funniest and most drily-delivered quips in the production. Katie's big number, "A Touch of the Irish," is a show-stopping performance for Geer, Spacone, and Pothier.
No mention of Meet Me in St. Louis' cast could possibly be complete without a nod to rising star Bobbie Celine Doherty, who plays Tootie, the youngest Smith daughter. Tootie is the first character on stage in St. Louis, and from her opening line, Doherty simply steals the show. This pint-sized actress more than holds her own in a cast full of professional musical theater performers. She is a strong singer and dancer, and her comedic skills - for all her sugar and spice, there's more than a little imp in the precocious Tootie - are second to none.
OSTC's production values are right on par with its first-rate company. Handsome period costumes by Brian Horton establish the piece's historical moment (Esther's trolley outfit and Rose's Christmas ball gown are special standouts) while Charles Murdock Lucas' scenic design transforms seamlessly from the cozy Smith family living room to the speedy St. Louis trolley cars to the pomp and astonishment of the World's Fair.
Performances of Meet Me in St. Louis run through December 28, 2014 at the Ocean State Theatre. Tickets range from $39-54 and can be purchased online at www.OceanStateTheatre.org, by phone (401) 921-6800, or at the OSTC box office, 1245 Jefferson Blvd., Warwick, RI. Rush tickets are available. Call (401) 921-1777 x112 for information on group discounts.
Photo by Mark Turek