You’ve seen the Judy Garland classic on the big screen. And now, you can experience the magic locally onstage.
“Meet Me in St. Louis” and all of its uplifting, turn-of-the-century-infused charm débuted at Riverside Center for the Performing Arts on Wednesday and runs through Dec. 31. Shows will take place Thursday through Saturday evenings with matinees on Wednesdays and Sundays.
“The classic songs are there, we have dance numbers throughout, and the set is very reminiscent of the movie we all love,” says Patrick A’Hearn, director of the show and producing artistic director at Riverside. “This show has been requested by our fans for a very long time and it’s just perfect for the holiday season.”
The “Meet Me in St. Louis” movie roots trace back to November 1944, when the Christmas musical film débuted in theaters. With original songs like “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “The Boy Next Door” and “The Trolley Song,” it quickly became an instant hit and Christmas favorite. In 1989, a stage adaptation opened at the George Gershwin Theatre on Broadway and, since, “Meet Me in St. Louis” has appeared on stages throughout the world.
The story is set in 1903 and zooms in on the Smith family’s collective anticipation of the following year’s World’s Fair. At the core of the plot are Esther Smith and the boy next door, John Truitt. Throughout the journey, there is love, heartache and change—all with an undeniable Christmas flair.
For Riverside’s “Meet Me in St. Louis,” there are certainly some familiar faces within the 22-member cast—notably Andrea Kahane who just appeared in Riverside’s last show, “Bright Star”—as well as recognizable settings from the timeless movie.
The bulk of the musical’s action takes place at the Smith’s home and on their front porch. And as for the iconic trolley tracks and train—in which so much of Esther and John’s love story unfolds around—a real-life trolley has been built on the Riverside stage, too. Adding that much to the vibe is an onstage eight-piece band, led by Carson Eubank, delivering the show’s tunes.
Starring in “Meet Me in St. Louis” are two actors making their Riverside début. James Madison University graduate and Richmond native Ally Dods is taking on Garland’s iconic role of Esther. Meanwhile, Cincinnati resident and recent Northern Kentucky University grad Jackson Hurt is portraying John.
“This is such a great show for me to be doing right out of college and it means a lot to be a part of the Christmas spirit,” says Hurt. “I must say that throughout this journey, I’ve fallen in love with Fredericksburg, too. [A’Hearn] has been wonderful to work with and everyone here has been so supportive of one another. It shows onstage.”
Dods certainly shares many of the same sentiments, adding, “It’s such a treat to sing Garland’s songs and I’m hoping to do them justice for everyone. The songs are heartwarming and there is so much in this show that so many families can relate to, particularly in today’s times. There is a real excitement in having something new over the horizon and looking toward the future.”
“Meet Me in St. Louis” marks the final show of Riverside’s 23rd season. For 2022, the slate of confirmed shows includes “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” (featuring Joyce DeWitt of “Three’s Company” fame) “Camelot,” “Nunsense” (with Sally Struthers as Mother Superior), “Ghost” and “Murder for Two.”
As for Riverside’s “Christmas Spectacular,” A’Hearn says it will return in 2022. But, until then, there is more than enough Christmas joy in this show to keep everyone more than jolly.