Meet Me in St. Louis

St.-Louis-filmFilm Soundtrack, 1944 (MGM/Rhino-Turner)  1 Stars (1 / 5) Based on a series of stories by Sally Benson that originally appeared in The New Yorker, Vincente Minnelli’s Meet Me in St. Louis is one of the glories of MGM’s Arthur Freed unit, but the film doesn’t have enough noteworthy music or interesting vocal performances to fill a soundtrack album. Judy Garland renders Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane’s “The Boy Next Door,” “The Trolley Song,” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” with an exquisitely light touch. She also does a lovely job with “Boys and Girls Like You and Me,” a Rodgers and Hammerstein song that wound up on the cutting-room floor. About half of the Rhino-Turner CD consists of musical underscoring from the movie, which means that a few vocal gems alternate with long stretches of orchestral tedium, even though the instrumental tracks do feature luxurious orchestrations by Conrad Salinger. — Charles Wright

St.-Louis-BroadwayOriginal Broadway Cast, 1989 (DRG)  2 Stars (2 / 5) Back when this stage version of Meet Me in St. Louis opened, who could have ever foreseen that, not too many years later, Broadway would be reduced to a theme park full of musical revivals, revisals, and adaptations of Hollywood movies? The score of the show was a mixture of the small handful of standards contained in MGM’s 1944 film and additional numbers by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane. Ironically, the paucity of invention on Broadway over the past decade makes this technically splendid recording of a so-called “New Broadway Hit Musical” worth a second listen. A revision of a stage adaptation that Martin, Blane, and Sally Benson had concocted in 1960 as summer fare for the Municipal Opera of St. Louis, the Broadway Meet Me in St. Louis was quite overproduced; its lavish set design by Keith Anderson included a frozen pond on which dancers executed intricate skating choreography by Michael Tokar. In addition to its visual excesses, the show offered a sprightly mix of Martin-Blane songs and old chestnuts like “Skip to My Lou” and “Under the Bamboo Tree” (both in the film version as well), sumptuously orchestrated by Michael Gibson and well performed by a plucky, talented cast. It’s hard not to feel an uplift of spirit when the large pit band, under Bruce Pornahac’s baton, soars through the lush overture, with its combination of brassiness and schmaltz; or when Donna Kane, the show’s ingenue, lets rip her energetic rendition of “The Trolley Song.” The show didn’t last long in New York, but its thoroughly listenable score is a reminder that Martin and Blane deserve a page in the Great American Songbook. — C.W.