Curtains: Meet Me in St. Louis at Mesa's Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre

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It's not too late to get your holiday theatrical fix -- Meet Me in St. Louis, the cozy, old-fashioned story that introduced the popular song "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and also features a great big turn-of-the-previous-century fancy-dress Christmas Eve ball, has another week to run at the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre in Mesa, with glazed ham, grilled turkey, gravy, stuffing, sweet potatoes, and a smorgasbord of pies on the menu, as well as a few lighter, less holiday-y choices in the buffet line.

St. Louis is another of those wildly popular old movie musicals that only got around to having a stage version created 20 years ago. The beauty part is that the original songwriters, Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, had continued to work in the industry and were available to add to the handful of original numbers they'd penned for the 1944 film. (Several popular songs from 1903-1904, the setting of Sally Benson's Kensington Stories that originally inspired the MGM classic, have also been part of the score all along -- including the title song! -- as well as a couple of traditional carols and dance tunes.)

So we are tied to a few conventions here, as we are in Singin' in the Rain, that are included to make rabid fans comfortable and do not necessarily work as well onstage as they would on a big studio lot -- a street of gingerbready houses, a working trolley -- but overall, the atmosphere is sweet and sincere, and the production flows smoothly.

The first act, in particular, is a briskly paced introduction to the huge and wholesome Smith family. They never stop singing, apparently, but there weren't a lot of other ways to amuse oneself back then, either. In what seems to be a sort of ironic in-joke, paterfamilias Alonso Smith (Mark Lanham) constantly asks them to keep it down. Regina Harbour, as Katie the maid, and Jessica Taige, as Esther (the "Judy Garland part"), are especially engaging and adept belters.

Evan Adamson's set is adorable and detailed, and the huge front parlor of the Smith home easily slides partially out of the way when necessary. There isn't much room for dancing in front of the curtain at Act II's Christmas Eve ball, but additional space would not improve the horrible, embarrassing "The Banjo," which Princeton freshman Lon Smith (Bobby Gouse) has returned to teach to all of St. Louis society. I'm not saying it isn't supposed to be horrible and embarrassing, but I am saying it looks and sounds like a Saturday Night Live sketch about a bunch of characters in a bad period musical being dead serious about learning a ridiculous dance, and, not unlike on SNL, the punchline never comes. Whether that's a bad thing depends on your own taste, perhaps.

John P. White's costumes are colorful, elaborately detailed, and earnestly faithful to the concept of the St. Louis we're expecting to see. They aren't a patch on the great Irene Sharaff's designs for the film, some of the ensemble wigging is noticeably out of place against performers' skin tones, and the general feeling of the Technicolor film process in a live-action show can be a bit overwhelming, especially after all that food, But the leads, in particular, look swell, and all the visual elements harmonize in a slightly nutty, festive way that fits with the sort of play this is.

Meet Me in St. Louis continues through Saturday, January 2, at Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre, 5247 East Brown Road in Mesa. FYI, there's both a matinee and an evening performance on Wednesday, December 29, but no show scheduled on Friday night (New Year's Day). Tickets are $22 (for children 12 and younger) to $54 and include a dinner and dessert buffet and non-alcoholic beverages. A special New Year's Eve event on Thursday is $125 per person; contact the box office for details. Make reservations here or call 490-325-6700.

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