Long before "the fast lane" became part of our culture, life was considerably more genteel and quiet. Especially for the folks at 5135 Kensington Ave. in March of 1903. That was the date (according to author Sally Benson - not the history books) that St. Louisans attended the ground-breaking for the sensational St. Louis World's Fair - officially the Louisiana Purchase Exposition.
MGM paid homage to the glorious event in 1944 with its classic Judy Garland movie - the film on which the fairly recent Broadway production was based.But despite an overall first-rate cast, colorfully authentic costuming and Clif and Chad Davis' wonderful sets, the opening night of the Grand Theatre production was hampered by such irritating problems as uneven sound (loudly popping at some times and gratingly shrill or barely audible at others), a not-up-to-par orchestra and a drearily sluggish pace.
All of the original's familiar favorites are still in the score - "The Boy Next Door," "The Trolley Song," "Under the Bamboo Tree," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and the title song. But there are some entirely forgettable songs that have been added in order to turn the nostalgic yarn into a full-scale musical - tunes that could be scaled way back or even eliminated altogether.
Fidgeting during a production is a sure sign something's wrong, and on opening night I was practically restless wondering if Act One would ever end. I also suspect that the script for SLCC's production was different from the one for the touring version that the Theater League of Utah brought to Salt Lake City in January 1993. The songs listed in the 1993 playbill don't jibe with the ones in SLCC's more recent version.
(In the touring version, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" surfaced two-thirds of the way into Act Two, but the SLCC version has it closing Act One. Likewise, "If I Had an Igloo" - one of the show's more forgettable numbers - opened Act Two by the national touring company, but it's fairly early in Act One on SLCC's stage.
By and large, the cast was in fine fettle, especially Sterling Hanks as John Truitt (the heart-throb "boy next door"); Janice Petersen as Esther Smith; Walter Price and Pat Jackson as Mr. and Mrs. Smith; Maxine Summers as Katie, the cook/housemaid; Julie Nelson Blatter as Rose, Esther's closest sister; and Bernett Baldwin as jovial Grandpa Prophater.
Rachel Hales was darling as Tootie, the youngest of the Smith girls - but half of her dialogue was gobbled up and distorted by the sound system.
Fortunately, in most productions, the sound problems, slow pacing and other problems have a way of working themselves out.