Remember "Meet Me in St. Louis"? Remember Judy Garland on the trolley? Remember "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"? and "The Boy Next Door"?
A $6-million stage version of the classic 1943 MGM musical opened Thursday night at Broadway's Gershwin Theatre. Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane have supplemented their original score with 10 new songs, and the cast likewise mixes familiar faces (Betty Garrett as the Irish maid) and fresh ones (Donna Kane as the girl next door).
The critics issued a split report. They agreed that it was an old-fashioned show, and some of them enjoyed it for that very reason. "Maybe it's the onset of middle age, but I found 'Meet Me in St. Louis' an unexpected delight," wrote Howard Kissell in the New York Daily News.
"If the show doesn't charm you, your heart must be even harder than a theater critic's."
Michael Kuchwara of the Associated Press was uncharmed. He liked Donna Kane's "perky" performance, but found the songs and the book "second-hand and as emotionally involving as a saccharine greeting card."
"It's reminiscent of those undemanding, undistinguished shows of yore, the kind that had big, expensive sets, pretty costumes, athletic dancing, maybe a star or two and a couple of hummable tunes. But what may have been, let's say, the best musical of 1953, has a tougher time on Broadway 1989."
Frank Rich of the New York Times was ready to meet "Meet Me in St. Louis" halfway. It succeeded in "spreading the good will earned by the overture," he thought. But it also displayed certain slight defects: "insipid acting, an inane book and a complete lack of originality."
Linda Winer of Newsday was not persuaded. "This is a bankrupt idea with a major bankroll--a contradiction that amounts to very, very fancy summer stock."
Will "Meet Me in St. Louis" celebrate Christmas on Broadway, or will it be gone by Thanksgiving? Stay tuned.