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Hamptons Life

Nov 26, 2018 5:18 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Theater Review: 'Meet Me In St. Louis' Is A Ton Of Fun For Everyone

Michaal Lyn Schepps (Anna Smith), Alyssa Kelly (Rose Smith) and Anna Schiavoni (Tootie Smith) perfect their 1940s harmonies in 'Meet Me in St. Louis' at the Southampton Cultural Center.  DANE DUPUIS
Nov 27, 2018 9:48 AM

“Meet Me in St. Louis: A Live Radio Play” is a pop-up Christmas card with song that just might bring a tear to your eye. It certainly did that to me and my plus-one on Sunday afternoon at the Southampton Cultural Center.

Though the 1944 movie version with Judy Garland and Margaret O’Brien used to be on television around this time of the year, it always evaded me—or I it—so I came to the story fresh. And what a pleasant treat it was, clichéd here, campy there, and fun all the way through. It’s basically two simplistic love stories with a soupçon of complication that one knows will be settled by the time the curtain falls, or in this case, the overhead light urging the audience when to applaud lights up the last time. I know, it already sounds corny.

But that’s its unpretentious appeal. What else is romantic comedy?

Though the radio play—with actors reading their lines in front of microphones (though these players mostly had memorized the script) is set in 1946 in a radio station, the play within the play harks back to 1903, the year before the World’s Fair in St. Louis. And that’s the story that gives us songs that are still memorable today: “Meet Me in St. Louis,” “The Trolley Song,” “Skip to My Lou” and the absolute tear-jerker when done right, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”

And by a troupe of talented amateurs, it’s being done right in Southampton. Pamela Morris, who played one of the silly girls in “Beauty and the Beast” last year at the cultural center, now in the Judy Garland role of Esther, sings the poignant lyrics in the second act with heart and musicality—and I admit I was a tad doubtful about her in the first act. But not only does she sing, the lady can act.

When acting in a radio play the actors are pushed to over-emote in an old-fashioned radio style; but taken too far, it can become ridiculous. Director Michael Disher did a bang-up job of taking the company to the edge without letting them drop over into the abyss of ridiculous. All were decked out in fine 1940s clothes.

Yet for a few moments I closed my eyes to feel what it would be like to actually hear a radio play on the radio, and everything clicked along like a Lionel train going around the Christmas tree. But if I’d kept my eyes shut, I’d missed the surprise of dance numbers, choreographed by the lithe Alyssa Kelly, who is also Rose. She’s Esther’s older sister with her own romantic issues. Just when her wealthy boyfriend —from asbestos manufacturing, remember that?—wants to propose, she keeps putting him off when she doesn’t intend to. Alas.

Although she doesn’t get into trouble of the romantic kind, Anna Schiavoni—a senior at Pierson High in Sag Harbor—as Tootie the kid sister gives a knockout performance with gusto and verve. Michaal Lyn Schepps is a rich soprano who does a lovely job with her solo, “You’ll Hear a Bell.” This spring in Southampton, she was a hilarious “closet” with vocals in “Beauty and the Beast.”

Two others were standouts: Michael Casper as the brother who’s off to Princeton; and Edna Winston, who had the unglamorous role of the announcer, but somehow managed to elevate the part.

Since it’s a radio play, it comes complete with silly 1940s singing commercials, these added by writer Joe Landry, who adapted the 1944 musical into the 2013 radio play. He’s better known for his adaptation into the same format of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” performed the last few years in Southampton.

In the style of The Andrews Sisters, the ads include ditties based on actual ads for Camel cigarettes (talk about a blast from the past); Listerine for halitosis (who even uses that word anymore?) sanitized tapeworms (once available from your local druggist) for that slim figure you always wanted to turn a man’s head, and conversely, a magic potion to add 10 pounds should you be a Skinny Minni—then you can buy Chubbettes clothing to keep all the pieces in places. “She can have a tummy and still look yummy!” Yes, the ads are absurd, but that’s their charm. By the way, Chubbettes was a real clothing line. Musical director Amanda Jones—who performed live on the piano—wrote the music not only for the campy commercials (except the Chiquita Banana song, which is the real thing) but also the interludes heard throughout, ladling on even more old-timey atmosphere.

Take the kids age 10 and up. It’s a rich treat for adults and the young, as sweet as the Christmas cookies for sale in the lobby.

“Meet Me in St. Louis: A Live Radio Play” continues through December 9 at the Southampton Cultural Center, 25 Pond Lane, Southampton. Performance times are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m., and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $25, or $12 for students. To purchase tickets, visit scc-arts.org, or call 631-287-4377.

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