By Abbie Gallagher
Meet Me in St. Louis is the inaugural show for new theatre company Starkeeper Productions. It was one I was keen to see, having greatly enjoyed director/choreographer Matt Hourigan’s work for Tuck Everlasting (MUSE) and more recently Fiddler on the Roof (WTC). I’m delighted to say that what I saw on the New Theatre stage on Tuesday night did not disappoint.
Based on the 1944 film starring Judy Garland, Meet Me in St. Louis follows the Smith family during the lead up to the 1904 World Fair. Patriarch Alonso (Lincoln Elliot) slaves away at his legal office, long-suffering mother Anna (Katelin Koprevic) does her best to keep the family under control with the help of Grandpa Smith (Andrew Symes) and Irish maid Katie (Victoria Luxton). Rose (Grace Driscoll) just wants her millionaire boyfriend Warren Sheffield (Jayden Castle) to propose. Lon (Jared Pallsen) is heading to Princeton. Tootie (hilariously portrayed by Amy Humphreys) and Agnes (Caitlin Shannon-Duhigg) squabble over dolls and plan some very worrying pranks. And Esther (Phoebe Clark) longs for her handsome neighbour John Truitt (Matthew Predny).
I don’t usually single out this many actors in a production, but I have on this occasion for a very specific reason. They all all worthy of very high praise. Bar none. Every single solitary member of the company could sing, they could all act and they could all hold their own in the choreography. And quite honestly, in Sydney's musical theatre scene, that's a rarity. Of all the musicals I’ve seen this year, aside from Muriel’s Wedding, this is the lone example of a full cast of people who can actually do what a musical theatre performer is meant to do.
Katelin Koprevic’s warm and nurturing performance makes you feel like part of the family. The youngest girls make you laugh and groan at the memories of sibling rivalry. Matthew Predny and Jayden Castle are both charming and funny, and the ensemble wins every time they appear.
Lincoln Elliot is a wonder. Though his stage time is limited, he has such presence and I have a feeling Mr. Elliot could read the phone book and make an audience laugh.
But the most credit of course must go to the indomitable Phoebe Clark. She absolutely makes this production what it is. She’s utterly delightful to watch, extremely likeable but not shallow, and one could happily listen to her crystal clear voice all night.
Most of Matt Hourigan’s previous directing has been in very dance-heavy shows, and the choreography is almost always the best reason to buy a ticket, but not here. The dance segments are largely scaled down (still thoroughly impressive) and we’re able to see how he’s just as capable of directing dialogue. The script is surprisingly funny, but the comic timing has understandably been modernised to be accessible to a 2019 audience. However, the integrity of the piece remains firmly intact.
You'll realise very quickly what kind of musical this is. It’s a period piece filled with classic standards such as The Trolley Song, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas and other songs we’ve heard parodied on The Simpsons. And it’s also a rare and lovely thing to see such art that largely puts women on the front foot, while never leaving the men in the dark either, especially for a 1940s work. And that’s really where any gripes I have about the show comes down to. It’s very much a product of the era. This would never pass the Bechdel Test, and some characters/plot points aren’t as well developed as they could be from a writing point of view. Additionally, while I do applaud the cast for singing without amplification, overhead microphones would not have gone astray here. Even with a mere three-piece band, sometimes voices drowned out amongst the dancers.
However, at the end of the day, those minor issues are just sidenotes compared to a very solid core. Meet Me in St. Louis has heart, soul, talent and joy. If this is what Starkeeper Productions can do on their first try, I can’t wait to see what they do next.
I’m glad to end my reviewing for 2019 with such a lovely night at the theatre. This is a fair you should definitely make a point of attending. You won’t regret it.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.