University of Southern Indiana Theatre will stage “Meet Me in St. Louis,” a musical based on the classic film featuring Judy Garland, April 16–26, 2009, at the Mallette Studio Theatre on the University of Southern Indiana campus. Lenny Leibowitz, assistant professor of theatre at USI and artistic director of New Harmony Theatre, directs the cast of eight children, 15 USI students, and two community players who range in age from eight to 64.
The musical is set in 1904, just before the St. Louis World’s Fair. Over the course of a year, the Smith family celebrates triumphs and faces crises together. According to Leibowitz, “the music is buoyant and giddy, and the show takes great stock in family and community. It celebrates the American vibrancy and vitality that was exploding at the turn of the century, and it also reminds us how fragile happiness can be. The characters all have individual dreams that they are ultimately willing to sacrifice for the good of the family.” Well-known songs from the show include “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” “Clang, Clang, Clang Went the Trolley,” and the title tune, “Meet Me in St. Louis.”
The children in the show have enjoyed creating a theatrical family through the rehearsal process. Taylor McDaniel, a sixth grade student at Evansville Christian School, is one of two young women playing the role of Agnes. She said, “It has been so fun being around the college kids. They really treat me like I am their sister.” At a recent rehearsal, Taylor took time out to help Andrea Conkright, a third grader at West Terrace Elementary School, with her homework. Conkright said that Taylor makes a “pretty good older sister.”
The girls have drawn on their own experiences to play the roles of Agnes and Tootie, the two youngest members of the Smith family. Jessica Bailey, a sixth grader at Holy Name School in Henderson, is the oldest of six children. She shares the role of Agnes with McDaniel. Bailey said that she could relate to the Smith family because “there is always something interesting going on at my house, too.” Conkright reported that as the youngest of four, she is, like Tootie, the baby of her family.
All of the girls expressed an interest in continuing to act, sing, and dance, although they have other interests that range from fashion design to biomechanical engineering. They agreed that one of the best things about their experience in “Meet Me in St. Louis” has been pretending to be someone else. According to Layne Ceotto, a fourth grade student at Jefferson Elementary School in Henderson who shares the role of Tootie with Conkright, “Tootie is a troublemaker. She loves to do things that make people mad or cause mischief.” Conkright agreed that it is fun to “actually get in trouble” on purpose.
The USI students and community members in the cast have taken an interest in helping the youngsters learn the songs, choreography, and blocking. Jasmine Ruckriegel, a sophomore theatre major from Jasper, plays Esther, the role originated by Judy Garland. Ruckriegel also has additional responsibilities. As assistant director for the production, she works with the young girls in the production to make sure that both Agneses and both Tooties have learned all the same blocking. Ruckriegel said, “Working with the children has been such a joy. They all bring something very interesting and wonderful to table, and when you put all their ideas and interpretations of Agnes and Tootie together, you get some really great moments.”
According to Amy Estes, managing director of University Theatres, the production has generated enormous enthusiasm from the community. She has already had to add performances to accommodate the demand for tickets. She said, “It is a musical that the entire family can enjoy together.”
The cast includes Gary Olson of Vincennes as Grandpa and Brandon Sears of Evansville as John Truitt; Bailey and McDaniel as Agnes, Ceotto and Conkright as Tootie, and Catherine Hitchcock, Hope Luker, Sarah Redmon, and Hanna Van Winkle as other children in the musical. In addition to Ruckriegel, USI students in the cast include Erica Becker, Kevin Bickwermert , Jeremy Brailsford, Jeff Dumond, Brandon Eck, Preston Harris-Dunlap, Bridget Hoover, Emily Kirk, Jessica Reecer, Kyle Rupert, Rachel Schenk, Joshua Smith, Meredith Woodard, and Rachel Ziegler. In addition to Leibowitz, the artistic team for “Meet Me in St. Louis” includes USI students Paige Scott as musical director, Susan Ryan as choreographer, and Bradley A. Lock as costume designer, along with USI Department of Performing Arts faculty members Craig A. Young as scenic and lighting designer and Thomas “Tommy” Thompson as sound designer.
Performances for “Meet Me in St. Louis” are as follows:
April 16 7:30 p.m.
April 17 7:30 p.m.
April 18 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
April 19 2 p.m.
April 22 7:30 p.m.
April 23 7:30 p.m.
April 24 7:30 p.m.
April 25 7:30 p.m.
April 26 2 p.m.
Tickets for “Meet Me in St. Louis” are $12, with discounts for seniors and students. To purchase tickets or for more information, contact the box office at 812/422-3970.
USI Theatre/New Harmony Theatre
812/465-7110 or email@example.com