The Rainbow Company Youth Theatre is taking the 1944 holiday classic “Meet Me in St. Louis” and turning it into a production for December.
“I think it’s a charming story that tells … of a simpler time,” says Karen McKenney-Dyer, the company’s artistic director.
“Meet Me in St. Louis” opens at 7 p.m. Friday at the Charleston Heights Arts Center. Tickets are $5.
“Less than the price of a movie,” she notes. “That’s a bonus to being a program of the city of Las Vegas. We can offer cheap tickets.”
Rainbow Company Youth Theatre was founded in 1976 and later became part of the city’s cultural offerings.
Through classes offered year-round, the program gives children ages 4 to 18 an avenue to grow in the theater through improv and acting.
“When children aren’t onstage, they are also learning the ropes behind the scenes, being anything from ushers to stage managers,” McKenney-Dyer says. “We have about 44 students in the ensemble.”
Rainbow Company Youth Theatre also has touring shows throughout the year that go into schools to put on productions.
The plays they choose are age- appropriate for the actors.
“We have people playing the age they are,” she says.
This year, in time for the holiday season, McKenney-Dyer says they chose “Meet Me in St. Louis.”
Usually the company has its show in the fall but pushed it back giving them extra time to prepare for this show.
The company did the play in 1999.
“We try not to use the same plays over and over again,” McKenney-Dyer says. “We think more than 10 years apart is good.”
“Meet Me in St. Louis” was adapted into a musical from a series of short stories published in The New Yorker magazine from Sally Benson.
The play centers around a close-knit family in 1904 when the World’s Fair is expected to come to their hometown of St. Louis. The family is also put through a series of life lessons as it prepares to move to New York amid the holiday season.
In 1944, it became a movie starring Judy Garland.
Besides being a great show for the season, McKenney-Dyer says people can expect the production to feature a live orchestra. Orchestras for Rainbow Company shows have consisted of anything from one piano to a collection of students and volunteers.
McKenney-Dyer says it helps students get a feel for how to work with a live band.
“With a track, if you make a mistake there is no one to help,” she says.
Many of the students, fans of the original movie, are excited to be a part of the production.
Leta Marcellus, who is playing Esther Smith, grew up watching Garland in the role.
She says she was excited to be cast as Esther.
Marcellus has been with the organization for several years.
“It has been a great experience,” she says. “You meet a lot of great friends and learn a lot.”
But most importantly, she gets to grow as an actor.
She has been part of the ensemble as well as having leading roles.
For this role, she says she is bringing a lot of her life experiences.
“Esther’s father gets transferred to New York in the play,” she says. “I’ve moved around. I tried to bring that experience into the role by remembering how I felt.”
Esther’s experiences as a teenager haven’t varied from other 16-year-olds, Marcellus adds.
“As a teen, you get crushes and fall in love,” she says. “So I put in my own life experiences.”
Even though the cast was encouraged not to watch the movie so they can create their own interpretations of the characters, Marcellus watched the movie when she was younger.
“I try not to copy what Judy Garland did and put my own experience in it,” she says.”
Each cast member has a favorite scene.
“I love the scenes that have the big musical numbers,” McKenney-Dyer says. “All the music is really catchy.”
But Marcellus says her favorite scene is when Esther sings “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”
She adds that during the scene, her character comes back from the ball and sees her little sister sitting eagerly awaiting Santa Claus. She is worried he won’t be able to find the family after they move to New York.
“She sings it to calm her sister down,” she says. “It’s such a beautiful scene.”
No matter the scene, she says everyone will find something to love about the show.
“People can expect a family show you can bring your kids to,” Marcellus says. “You don’t want to skip this classic.”
Contact reporter Michael Lyle at email@example.com or 702-387-5201. Follow @mjlyle on Twitter.
What: Rainbow Company Youth Theatre production of “Meet Me in St. Louis”
When: 7 p.m. Friday, Saturday, Dec. 12 and 13; 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 13 and 14
Where: Charleston Heights Arts Center, 800 S. Brush St.
Tickets: $5; 702-229-6553, www.artslasvegas.org.