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‘Meet Me in St. Louis’ Brings Old-World Charm to Summit Stage

Liz Keill

Monday, November 7, 2011 • 8:15am

SUMMIT, NJ - Although a stage version of “Meet Me in St. Louis” enjoyed a Broadway run several years ago, it never lived up to the nostalgic MGM musical with Judy Garland, Margaret O’Brien and a host of actors, superbly directed by Vincent Minnelli.
 
Fortunately, The Summit Playhouse has brought us a warm confection, with the music from the movie intact as well as additional songs by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane.
 
All the cast members on the Summit stage have strong voices and distinctive personalities, making the evening a festive delight. Arnold Buchiane is absolutely tops as Grandpa Prophater, gleefully dancing, comforting his grand daughters and leading the ensemble in the finale, “Meet Me in St. Louis.”
 
Anna Lovallo is his grand daughter Esther, who pines for “the boy next door.” Lovallo is a senior at Northern Highlands Regional High School and has a crystal clear soprano. That ‘boy’ is played by a winsome Alex Post. The endearing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” hits home, as Esther tries to comfort little Tootie when the family is faced with a move to New York. Sky Spiegel is Rose Smith, her older sister, being courted by the wealthy Warren Sheffield , played by Sam Spare. When these two join voices in “A Raving Beauty” and later dance together in a ballroom scene, they’re a perfect match.
 
Naomi Fisch is the youngest of the clan, Tootie. This 11-year-old from South Orange Middle School has the right spunk and presence to keep us intrigued. Morgan Kelleher plays Agnes Smith, another daughter and fits nicely with her little sister Tootie.
 
Todd Shumpert and Stacey Petricha are the parents and these two still have that spark of love, especially with “Wasn’t It Fun?” Shumpert is terrific with “A Day in New York” and Petricha brings a warm touch to “You’ll Hear a Bell.”
 
Alice Regan Moynahan is the family cook, Katie, and keeps the scene lively with “Touch of the Irish,” not to mention her staunch stand in family matters.  Aaron Braden is the son, Lon Smith, who is off to Princeton. Rosemary Walter plays his would-be girlfriend Lucille and David Hoffman is the friendly postman.
 
Director Jay Mills has led this group effectively in a spirited production. The Playhouse stage has its limitations, especially with the need to use a turntable for shifts from the front porch to the Smith’s living room. There’s no way to create an elegant Victorian home within the confines of the space. Costumes by Ann Lowe are fine for the men, but Esther’s outfits at times don’t seem to have the feel of a real wardrobe. Some details are lacking, such as petticoats for the women and high button shoes appropriate for the period. Dimmed lighting would be an effective addition to the “Merry Little Christmas” song, enhancing its nostalgic glow.
 
Nevertheless, this is a production that can be enjoyed by the whole family and it’s here at a perfect time of year, just as Halloween ends, on the cusp of Thanksgiving and the holiday season.  Performances continue through Nov. 19.  For tickets, call 908-273-2192 or visit SummitPlayhouse.org. The Summit Playhouse is located at 10 New England Avenue, Summit, next door to the Grand Summit Hotel.
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