|Lily Nelson and Holly Payne|
photo courtesy Hale Centre Theatre
While actor Holly Payne was busy reinventing Judy Garland's 1944 MGM role of Esther from the sweetly sentimental Meet Me in St. Louis musical at Hale Centre Theatre, it seems Esther was surreptitiously reinventing Holly. Payne shared her leading lady experiences with PHX Stages on the dawn of the production's charmingly successful opening night.
"Esther has truly been a little challenge for me because I myself am an introvert. I don't really get out much," Payne said, "but Esther is a huge extrovert, really active. She loves parties. She wants to make sure everyone is having a good time."
As St. Louis buzzes with preparations for the 1904 World's Fair, Esther is one of the Smith family's four sisters in the romantic comedy. The plot bounces forward primarily by way of Esther being "head over heels for the boy next door," John, according to Payne. The musical birthed unforgettable tunes into America's psyche, including "The Trolley Song" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."
"Now I hear that song a little differently," said Payne of the unforgettable Christmas carol. "It's more beautiful, has more meaning, because Esther is using the words to try and comfort her sister...and herself. [She's assuring them both that] as long as they are together, they can be happy anywhere."
Movie fans might be interested to know that, while all of the wonderful Garland tunes are present in Hale's production, the spotlight shines more evenly on the entire cast. Payne said that each of the primary characters have musical numbers of their own.
"In the stage play the story just makes so much more sense, and you get to fall in love with all of the characters," Payne said.
She described how welcoming Meet Me in St Louis is in the way that it "takes you back to a simpler time." The simpler time included stunning fashions that yield absolutely "gorgeous costumes" on Hale's theatre-in-the-round stage. By Payne's descriptions, it's a lot to fall in love with.
"I fell in love with my character because she has a lot of confidence, and" it turns out, Payne said, "she's made me a lot more confident. Esther has changed me because I've just grown right along with the character."