Want to feel younger, instantly? Head to the Covedale on Cincinnati’s West Side for Meet Me in St. Louis.
If this nostalgic show, based on the 1944 Judy Garland film and full of playful tunes like “Skip to My Lou” and “Under the Bamboo Tree” doesn’t make you feel like a kid again, the audience will. Gray heads were wall to wall on opening night. After seven years, Cincinnati Landmark Productions knows how to please its audiences. Extraordinary fact: Among locally producing theaters, only the Cincinnati Playhouse has more subscribers.
Newcomers to this performing arts Mecca might be baffled. Most Covedale productions could be mistaken for those at an above-average high school. Meet Me in St. Louis does not dispel that impression, but there is talent on this stage, beginning with Turpin/Kent State product Brooke Rucidlo. A spectacular Peter Pan last season, she makes an appealing Judy Garland stand-in (with a dash of Vera-Ellen pep) in the role of Esther, the girl in love with the boy next door.
It’s 1903 and all five Smith children have plans, romantic and otherwise, dependent on the World’s Fair coming their way the following summer. Father has other ideas: He’s taking a promotion and moving the family to New York City after Christmas. We know this tragedy will be averted, just as we know Tootie (the adorable Alyson O’Connell) will outgrow her morbid phase and stop burying dolls in the backyard. This is musical theater at its most reassuring, with an ad for the Cincinnati streetcar as a bonus.
True, the staging is awkward, the set looks half-done and the spotlights often drift before finding their targets. You might just as well quibble over the show’s title song, whose lyrics attempt to rhyme “hootchie-cootchie” with “tootsie-wootsie.” You’ll walk out humming it, just the same.
MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS, presented by the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts, continues through Oct. 18. Buy tickets, check out performance times and find nearby bars and restaurants here.