Published On: Sat, Dec 7th, 2013

Review: ‘Meet Me in St. Louis’ at Bucks County Playhouse

meet me in st louis“Clang-clang-clang” went the trolley; “ding-ding-ding” went many bells. They tug-tug-tugged at my heartstrings. And by the end, I was feeling quite swell (and lyrical).

“Meet Me in St. Louis: A Live Radio Play,” based on the movie starring Judy Garland and “The Kensington Stories” by Sally Benson, is the holiday show at the Bucks County Playhouse through Dec. 29. It features familiar songs like “The Boy Next Door,” “The Trolley Song,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and “Meet Me in St. Louis.” The play, adapted by Joe Landry from the book by Hugh Wheeler, with direction by Gordon Greenberg, is 90 minutes of fun. It showcases the Smith family’s squabbles, the bonds between sisters, silly misunderstandings, sentimental singing and, of course, a love story (or two).

Geoff Packard, Jay Russell, Garth Kravits, Lauren Molina, Chelsea Packard, and Victoria Cook play a cast of actors in 1946 performing a radio show set in 1903 with its own cast of characters. Most of the actors play more than one character. They did so expertly, using props and voice changes to make clear who’s who. And since it’s a radio show, it featured sound effects done by hand, just like in the old days – clanking glasses and silverware when the Smith family is having dinner, tapping two coconuts together when there’s a horse walking, and the like.

The audience helps when encouraged to participate by a blinking applause sign. At the show on Friday, Dec. 6, we dutifully responded. The sign is so high and far from center stage, though, that during a couple of “instructions,” we missed our cue and came in late. But for me, that was mainly because, by that point, the characters had captured my attention and I was more interested in the story than the gimmick.

All of the cast – most of whom have Broadway experience – are talented singers and performers. All not only act and sing, but also play musical instruments on stage – cello, flute, drums, guitar, triangle, wood blocks, and even the kazoo.

But two of the performers particularly made my experience enjoyable.

Geoff Packard, who plays John Truett in the radio play, sings a couple of songs alone and sings in ensemble pieces. I wish he had more solo time. He has a beautiful voice. This is his BCP debut. I hope he returns to the stage here.

And Lauren Molina alone is worth the price of admission. In the radio play, she portrays Tootie, the youngest of the Smith family sisters, and their Irish maid, Katie (among others). Tootie has the lisp to end all lisps and is a spunky troublemaker. But she’s the kind of kid you can’t help but to like and forgive quickly (and you will forget she’s being played by a grown woman). And Katie gives some wise and humorous advice about men to Tootie’s older sisters – it’s all about “a touch of the Irish.” There are laughs throughout the show, but Molina extracts most, if not all, of the belly and burst-out-loud ones. She is hilarious. Molina starred in last year’s holiday production, “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” as well. If BCP’s gift to audiences is that Molina stars in the holiday production each year, that’s one I wouldn’t even think of complaining about or returning.

If you’re looking for a non-Nutcracker-Scrooge-Rudolph-type Christmas show, that still is traditional and sweet, that celebrates family, friends, and fun, this is a good option. Tell your friends to meet you in New Hope to see “Meet Me in St. Louis: A Live Radio Play.” It’s worth the trip.

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  1. […] about holiday shows in the region, including two reviews (of the same show!): a general review from opening night and another reflecting on one performer in particular who reminded me why I love theater as much as […]

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