TBT, Masquers Club collaborate on show

Courtesy Photo The cast for Thunder Bay Theatre’s holiday production of “Meet Me in St. Louis” includes many Alpena High School Masquers Club students, along with core company performers Erica Werner and Travis Welch.

Thunder Bay Theatre kicks the holiday season off this week with its annual collaborative production done with the Alpena High School Masquers Club. The classic favorite, “Meet Me in St. Louis,” features 25 students either on stage or helping out behind the scenes. It opens Friday and runs through Dec. 10.

TBT Artistic Director Jeffrey Mindock, who is directing the show, said audiences can expect to see a production closely tied to the MGM movie that starred Judy Garland.

“As has become a tradition, especially over the last two years at TBT, ‘Meet Me in St. Louis’ is an iconic family-friendly musical that is the perfect way for everyone to celebrate the holidays,” Mindock said. “We’re getting back to the basics. We’ve got a musical that is filled with lighthearted family jokes and songs that you are familiar with and a play that ends with a happy ending.”

Mindock advises reserving tickets early because the holiday student production always fills up quickly.

“Tickets for this show always sell rapidly, and we are anticipating a high number of sellouts, so we really do mean it this time. If you want tickets you have to call ahead,” he said.

Along with all the students featured in the production, TBT core company members Travis Welch and Erica Werner play the parts of Mr. and Mrs. Smith. They last appeared together as Gertrude and Claudius in TBT’s most recent production of “Hamlet.”

“Meet Me in St. Louis” was released as an MGM film in 1944 and related the story of a year in the life of the Smith family of St. Louis, leading up to the opening of the World’s Fair in the spring of 1904. Garland debuted the standards, “The Trolley Song,” “The Boy Next Door” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” all of which became hits after the film was released.

The Smith family leads a comfortable upper-middle class life with four daughters, played at TBT by Samantha Brooks (with Miriam Denstaedt as Esther’s understudy), Mady Young, Tori Eller and Laura Poli, and a son played by Joey Lanier. While the majority of the students appearing in “Meet Me in St. Louis” attend Alpena High School, Eller and Poli both are currently in middle school.

Ernie Livermore appears as John Truitt, the boy next door and Esther’s love interest. Local veteran actor David Usher took on the role of Grandpa Prophater.

Others appearing in the show include Jenna Peterson as Katie, Ryan Heath as Warren Sheffield, Miriam Denstaedt as Lucille Ballard, Natalie Goff as Eve, Iven Brown as the Postman and Purvis, Josh Rasmussen as Motorman and Drummond, Cameron Meicher as Clinton Badger and Tara Myers, Ludovica Brambilla, Sarah Vrendenburg, Olivia Gerhart, Angelina Burcar and Olivia Losinski as the ensemble.

Mindock said the high school students have been involved in every facet of the show, making it a true learning experience for them. That’s one of the aspects he appreciates most about TBT – how it gives students the opportunity to stretch and grow in the arts, which he sees as benefiting both them and Alpena.

“What I always like to make sure everyone is aware of is that this production is what Alpena is all about,” Mindock said. “This show is so much more about the process for the students than the actual production, which is the show. That is simply a by-product of the growth and development and education of these students.”

Since he’s been at the helm, Mindock also said he’s seen how TBT’s reputation has grown at college and universities around the state where AHS Masquers Club students have gone on to pursue a degree in the performing arts. He recently visited several of those students appearing in a production at Central Michigan University and visited with several others attending the University of Michigan-Flint and Oakland University. While on each campus, Mindock also met with the professors in the schools’ theater programs.

“We’re starting to gain a reputation for Alpena with colleges all over the state simply because of the theater students that we’re producing in this program,” he said.

TBT’s “Meet Me in St. Louis” is supported by the Michigan Council for the Arts and Cultural Affairs as well as the National Endowment for the Arts. True North Radio is serving as the local sponsor.

Show times are Thursday to Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. For reservations, call the TBT box office at 354-2267.