Encinitas Composer's Score Leaps From Movie to Stage, but Critics Scorn Move

Encinitas composer Hugh Martin waited for 30 years for his "Meet Me in St. Louis" score (with Ralph Blane) to make the transition from the 1944 MGM movie classic, starring Judy Garland, to Broadway.

Martin hoped a warm reception for this $6-million musical about a turn-of-the-century middle-class Missouri family would signal a renewed interest in the kind of songs he still writes. But those hopes have not been born out by the New York critics. The reviews for the show, which opened Thursday night at the Gershwin Theater, found most New York critics carping that, despite lavish, no-expense-spared sets--complete with a trolley and a real skating rink--the trip down memory lane was not worth the effort. The now classic songs by Martin and Blane--"The Trolley Song," "The Boy Next Door," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"--escaped censure, but the 10 new songs composed by the team were put down as "no patch on the original 'St. Louis' score" by Frank Rich of the New York Times.

Still, Rich had kinder words for Martin's music--"consistent with the 1940s' Tin Pan Alley sound that is so endearing in Mr. Martin's output"--than he did for the lyrics, which he called "laughably silly."

Rich and Clive Barnes of the New York Post both praised the good will generated by the show, but with reservations.

Rich conceded that "Meet Me in St. Louis" is superior to the other latter-day Broadway adaptations of MGM musicals, like "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" and "Singin' in the Rain," but added, "It's not high praise to say so."

Barnes put the show down as "old-fashioned rather than classic, ancient rather than antique."

Only Howard Kissel of the New York Daily News reacted in just the way producers Louis Burke and Joan Brickhill might have wished, calling the show "an unexpected delight."

Kissel described the actors as having "a middle-American innocence I thought had been banished from the musical theater by its grandiose pretensions in recent years. It was all I could do to keep from crying. . . . There are dull stretches, songs that don't really pay off, a bit too much moving of scenery, but if the show doesn't charm you, your heart must be even harder than a theater critic's."

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