Saturday, May 30, 2015

Review: Meet Me in St. Louis, A Live Radio Play

Meet Me in St. Louis, reviewed by Wendy Rosenfield. Produced by Bucks County Playhouse, adapted by Joe Landry, based on the Hugh Martin, Ralph Blane, Hugh Wheeler musical. Directed by Gordon Greenberg, featuring Lauren Molina, Geoff Packard, Chelsea Packard.

Review: Meet Me in St. Louis, A Live Radio Play

by Wendy Rosenfield

After her Sound of Music live television performance Thursday, more than a few Carrie Underwood defenders took to social media to declare, “At least she had the guts to do it live.” Bucks County Playhouse’s world premiere production, Meet Me in St. Louis: A Live Radio Play, also takes on a beloved classic and -- much like other theaters everywhere, all the time -- performs it live, with far more consistent results, and without the budget and backing of a major television network. So there.

This year marks the second time a Joe Landry radio play has landed on BCP’s stage, but the first time the work was commissioned for the company. Last year’s adaptation, It’s a Wonderful Life, is one of the most often produced plays in the United States. Its formula -- repeated here with a return show-stealing performance by petite dynamo Lauren Molina as both youngest Smith sister Tootie and Irish housemaid Katie and lively direction by Gordon Greenberg (Working) -- has the makings of another success.

Aside from the affection audiences already might feel for the Judy Garland/Vincente Minnelli original, its radio doppelganger piles on meta-nostalgia in the form of a 1946 radio broadcast of the 1944 film, set in the year before the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. Nicole Moody’s costumes, with swingy cranberry velvet, plaid woolens, and frothy pink tulle, warm up Rob Bissinger’s simple set: a backdrop depicting the Smith home throughout the seasons.

Everyone loves a love story, and this production offers one, both onstage, between Esther and the neighbor boy, John Truitt, and also between their real-life counterparts, actors Chelsea and Geoff Packard, who, if slightly older than their roles suggest, still sing out sweetly. Everyone also loves a Foley artist, another advantage of the radio play format, even if he’s mostly limited to door slamming and coconut shell hoof-clicking.

Though this could easily be a static affair, Greenberg keeps the action moving onstage and above it, in the loft. The six-person cast dances, plays kazoos, and never flags, not that they get the opportunity. In just one act, packed with Hugh Martin's and Ralph Blane’s much-adored songs (“The Boy Next Door,” “The Trolley Song,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”), plus several extras from a 1989 Broadway version, the show zing, zing zings through its material.

Sure, it’s easier and cheaper to turn on the TV and call up the film on demand, but, as NBC’s effort proved, there’s just no substitute for live theater performed well.

Playing at: Bucks County Playhouse, 70 S. Main St., New Hope. Through Sunday, Dec. 29. Tickets: $29 to $57.50. Information: 215-862-2121 or

About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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