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'Meet Me In St. Louis' set to open at Peoria Players

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For Mary Ellen Ulrich, the musical "Meet Me in St. Louis" takes her back to a simpler time, such as her childhood.

Even though she wasn't yet alive when the play takes place, in fact was decades from being born, it still made her think of her childhood home, on Oak Street in Quincy. So when she designed the set for the show, which opens Friday at Peoria Players Theatre, she let her memory guide her — right down to the stained glass window in the living room and the pictures on the wall.

"That looks like real wall paper, doesn't it," she queried while waiting for a recent dress rehearsal to start. "This looks a lot like our house."

"Meet Me in St. Louis" is a show with nostalgia, a big cast, lots of costumes, music people already know and will be humming when they leave the theatre, and most of all family appeal. That's a Mary Ellen Ulrich type of show and that is why she asked to direct it.

"I just love shows that span generations. Our cast does that. Our youngest performer is 5 and our oldest is 68 or 69. And they all are so special and they all recognize that this is a special show. I've loved it from the first time I ever saw it," Ulrich said

The show centers around the Smith family, which has four daughters all eagerly anticipating the 1904 World's Fair that was in St. Louis. But a promotion for Mr. Smith, an attorney, throws the family into a tailspin because it means moving to New York City right after the year 1904 begins.

This show deals with the kind of transition and sacrifices a lot of families had to make at a time when communications were so different, not to mention transportation issues, Ulrich said.

"This piece goes back to a time when things were kindler and gentler. But also, the times made it that much more difficult to handle transitions of that nature. Still, the message is still on point today because it deals with family. It really brings home the meaning of family," she said.

Several well-known songs came from this musical, which actually was first a 1944 film by the same name that starred Judy Garland. It didn't make it to Broadway until 1989.

Songs include the title song, The Boy Next Door, The Trolley Song, Under the Bamboo Tree, A Day in New York and Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.

The cast of 64 includes many veterans of Peoria-area community theatre as well as newcomers, Ulrich said.

Principal cast members include Molly Smith, last seen on the Peoria Players stage in "The Drowsy Chaperone," as Esther, Mary Rose Williams as Rose, Anna Hsu as Agnes, Faustina Hoerdeman as Tootie and Ryan Fouk as Lon. Mr. and Mrs. Smith are portrayed by Steve Post and Dedra Kaiser, respectively, while Curt Rowden portrays Grandpa and Amy Wyckoff plays the family's very Irish and very saucy maid, Katie.

Deric Kimler portrays John Truitt, Bryan Blanks is Warren Sheffield, Natalie McMillion is Lucille Ballard, Alexandria Sauder is Eve, Fred Schoen is Mr. Braukoff, Jerry Brost is the postman, Jim Babrowski is the motorman, Clay Frankel is Clinton Badget, Colin Evers is Peewee Drummond and Tyler Smith is Sidney Purvis.

Amanda Bach is the music director, leading a nine-piece orchestra, and Jimmy Ulrich choreographed the show. Costumes, which is this show must be period and elaborate, were headed by Carrie McMillion.

"I love shows with big casts and a lot of people bustling around," Ulrich said, with her ever-present laugh. "I'm Irish, so I was raised around a lot of commotion. I also was raised around a lot of family, which is why family is so important to me. That's why I love this show and I think the audience will, too."

The show starts at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 8, 9, 13, 14, 15 and 16 and at 2 p.m. on Nov. 10 and 17.

Tickets are $18 for adults, $12 for students 18 and under and they can be purchased at the Peoria Players box office, ordered by calling 688-4473 or online at

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).