Anneliese van der Pol was a big star on You're So Raven. If, unlike my teenage daughter but like me, you never watched that particular Disney Channel TV sitcom, the news is something of a so-what. Stage musicals and plays love to bring in names from TV or the movies as a draw to build audience.
However, van der Pol's bonafides look better the further you look in her resume. The Dutch-American grew up in community theater in California (she left Holland when she was 6). She made it to Broadway as the last Belle in Beauty and the Beast. More recently she was in the Off-Broadway production of Vanities, A New Musical. Theatre Under the Stars thought enough of her to sign her up for Meet Me in St. Louis, putting her in the big role -- Esther Smith -- the one immortalized on film by Judy Garland.
And Thursday, on press night, she seemed more than up to the part, even though, as she told Hair Balls, TUTS gave her only two weeks to learn her role. Her voice was strong (she did especially well with "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" -- which she says she delights in the opportunity to sing since she's Jewish), she got around on her steps fairly well and she seems to genuinely enjoy the comedic aspects of her role. She even successfully negotiated a 45-second costume change during the trolley song. ("Three people are helping me backstage and then I run on.")
There were a few glitches Thursday -- early on the mikes weren't catching all the actors' lines and actor Zach Frank, who played Lon Smith, didn't quite get his feet back under him at the end of the forward flip in one group dance number.
But nothing like the night before - when the Smith house went all HAL 9000 on the cast, according to van der Pol.
The house is central to the telling of this story. Split down the middle, each half opens simultaneously to reveal the rooms inside the first floor of the Smith domain and closes to switch to scenes on the outside porch.
But the night before, the house took on a mind of its own, van der Pol said. For an incredibly long three minutes, she said, "one side opened and one didn't." Half the cast onstage was seen by the audience, the other half hidden. So the actors stalled their lines, waiting for the fix to be made so they could go on.
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They must have made a fairly good job of it; van der Pol says her mother out in the audience didn't even notice the temporary holding pattern.
Anneliese, who toured Texas before in regional theater including a production of Oklahoma and thinks we're so friendly, believes she's "at my best on stage. I think because I can do it all. I don't want to sound conceited, but I can dance, I can sing. I can act."
Still, she misses the 9-5 hours of a sitcom and wouldn't mind being in one again. "I do love to make people laugh." Right now, she's doing that live and in Houston.
Meet Me in St. Louis is at the Hobby Center through October 11. Ticket information is available by phone at 713-558-8887 or at the TUTS Box Office, 800 Bagby at Walker or online at TUTS.com and at thehobbycenter.org.