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Romance, charming tunes enchant Whidbey Playhouse
Meet the Smith family at the 1904 World’s Fair with toe-tapping tunes, charming romance and contagious optimism as Whidbey Playhouse talent presents “Meet Me in St. Louis.” The musical opens Friday, Nov. 4 and runs through Sunday, Nov. 27.
In the musical, set in St. Louis in 1904, the Smith family is excited that the World’s Fair is coming to their hometown.
Romance takes the lead as Rose Smith, played by Tara Hizon, and Esther Smith, played by Anna Watson, discover the joys and frustrations of new love. As Rose becomes annoyed by her love interest, Warren Sheffield, played by Darren McCoy, Esther falls for the boy next door, John Truitt, played by Raymond Hamilton.
Despite an irritable father, played by Jim Reynolds, Lon Smith heading off to college, played by Lukas Lowther, and irritating-yet-beloved young Agnes, played by Megan LeMay, and Tootie, played by Nicole Sipes, the family remains close. “Life’s fine whenever I’m with you,” they sing about each other, one of many charming tunes.
But just as life seems dandy, Mr. Smith announces that the family is moving to New York. Tears are everywhere; if they move, they’ll miss the World’s Fair, not to mention the budding romance between Esther and John.
With nearly 150 costumes, a ballroom scene filled with whirling skirts and lively classic songs like “Meet Me in St. Louis,” “The Trolley Song” -- complete with trolley -- and a square dance to “Skip to My Lou,” the playhouse is packed with remnants of a quaint era.
“This is quite a big undertaking for the playhouse,” said director Paul Pierce. With a cast of 25 actors and a lot of dancing, the musical could have been done on a full-sized stage but the actors managed well at the playhouse, Pierce said.
Pierce has directed numerous plays around the United States. He moved to Whidbey Island from Everett and joined the playhouse.
“It’s been good for me, it’s been good for them,” Pierce said about the production, adding that he now calls the cast his extended family.
Through rehearsals all summer, the actors have become as close as the Smith family.
“It’s been a blast from start to finish. I’ve never had so much fun on stage before,” said Anna Watson, who plays Esther. She agreed that the cast has become like family to her.
This is Watson’s first performance in Oak Harbor but she has performed in Spokane and at her church and she has been singing since she was 4 years old. She said she’s loved the movie “Meet Me in St. Louis” since she was 6 years old so this production “was too great of an opportunity to pass up.”
Raymond Hamilton, playing John, has been singing since he was 6. He had his own musical group at one point.
This is Hamilton’s first play. He said his wife encouraged him to audition as an alternative to doing karaoke around town. Although he wasn’t sure what to expect, he said everyone gave him the help and positive encouragement he needed and it was a great experience for him.
Playing John allowed him to act a few years younger than he is. “I guess I could say in a sense I was acting my age,” Hamilton said with a smile.
“It’s been fun teaching a lot of singers how to dance who’ve never danced before,” Pierce said. He’s a licensed dance teacher and danced with the Olympic Ballet Theatre.
Pierce also enjoyed incorporating the historical aspects of the play, including a Ferris wheel, iced tea and cotton candy brought by the 1904 World’s Fair, which was also the first time electrical lighting was used outdoors.
“The hardest part is when it’s over,” Pierce said. It’s like losing a family, he said. So he expects himself and the others to keep doing shows again and again.
“Everyone should come see it. It’s so much fun and has a bit of everything -- humor, romance, dancing,” Watson said.
“I think people on the island will enjoy it. It’s a big production for this theater. Come and see it!” Pierce said.