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Published by jhartmann, 2018-06-01 16:28:01

The Muny Saga: 2000-2017

Muny Saga from 2000-2017

This photo from 1920 shows both mighty oaks standing as a natural proscenium.
Photo by AW Saunders


It was a slow death. Everything that could be done was done, but in the end dis-
ease and age claimed their victim. Back in July 1946 – the same week that baritone
Edward Roecker was belting his way through East Wind, an exotic Sigmund Rom-
berg-Oscar Hammerstein operetta set in Saigon – City Forester E. R. Olmstead
disclosed that one of the two tall, stately burr oaks that frame the Municipal Opera
stage was sickly. Olmstead projected that the tree might survive another 15 seasons,
but he made no guarantee. In a Herculean effort, the City Forestry Division man-
aged to keep the oak alive into the 21st century. Finally in 2002 it had to be taken
down. A portion of the doomed oak’s timber was refashioned into a large conference
table for the Muny office.

How old was the signature oak? Obviously, no one knew. But consider this:
An inventory of Forest Park’s 1,300 acres determined that the oldest of the park’s
18,000 trees are located in a grove of swamp white oaks directly north of the Muny.
In 1997 these oaks were more than 200 years old.

Soon after the Municipal Opera opened in 1919, the two bookending burr
oaks became a metaphor for the towering enterprise. They appeared in early Muny
advertising. But plays and trees do not always enhance one another. Although the
original Municipal Opera staff resisted urgings to remove the oaks, in 1930 produc-
tion manager Milton Shubert hid their trunks behind proscenium walls in order
to focus the viewer’s eye away from the sky and onto the stage proper. Throughout
the 1930s and ’40s scenic designer Watson Barratt, who viewed the Opera as “a big
garden,” nevertheless constructed elaborate sets intended to hide the oaks. After the
electronic steel scenery booms were installed in 1961, to appreciate the oaks’ full
glory you almost had to be backstage. But in 2013 Laura Michelle Kelly voiced the
wonder of generations of appreciative performers when she evocatively described
the Muny stage as “like a ballroom in a tree house.” For 84 years that tree house was
suspended between two oaks.


The newly-seated Muny auditorium, 2000.
Photo by Jim Herren


***

Two years before the oak came down, the Muny leaped into the new century with
its sixth staging of West Side Story. Doomed lovers Tony and Maria were played by
Muny favorite Eric Kunze and newcomer Sarah Uriarte Berry. The young soprano
remained in town to sing in An Evening with Richard Rodgers, a week-long tribute to
the city’s favorite composer.

The script for An Evening with Richard Rodgers was co-written by St. Louisan
David Levy, who had grown up attending Muny productions. Years later he found
himself in New York, working with many of the same stars he had seen in Forest
Park. “People like Dolores Gray, John Raitt, Karen Morrow and Carol Channing,”
Levy recounted. “Inevitably I would ask them: Was it my imagination? Was it my
youthful naivete? Or was the Muny really as great as I had remembered? To a per-
former, they all agreed that they had never played anywhere quite as exciting as the
Muny.” This was the excitement that, at the start of a new century, executive produc-
er Paul Blake sought to perpetuate.

And it was this excitement that prompted president and CEO Denny Reagan
to steer the theater through an ambitious four-year plan of improvements on both
sides of the stage lights. At the end of the 2000 season, for the first time in 32 years,
every seat in the amphitheater was replaced.

An Evening with Richard Rodgers was followed by the eighth version of Rodg-
ers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music, now starring Emily Loesser as Maria and
Robert Westenberg as Captain Von Trapp. The show was staged by first-time Muny
director John Going. “On opening night,” he recalled, “I sat down in the seat they
had for me, near the stage, and I happened to turn around. When I saw that crowd
behind me [estimated at 10,640], I thought, ‘Dear God! I am responsible for enter-


Bob Westenberg as Captain VonTrapp, and Emily Loesser as Maria, in THE SOUND OF MUSIC, 2000.
Photo by Jim Herren


taining all those people!’”

Exactly so. During the past eight decades a series of marvels had changed the
very contour of Forest Park. The slope of a pristine hill had been graded to accom-
modate millions of theatergoers. A foul river that once flowed directly through the
stage area had been tamed and moved underground. Sound and lighting had been
refined from their once-primitive state to state-of-the-art. But one thing had never
changed. Regardless of whether you directed the shows or performed on the stage
or painted the sets or sold the tickets, if you worked at the Muny you shared in the
responsibility – indeed, the obligation – to entertain those astronomical legions of
people who night after night, season after season, generation upon generation, made
the pilgrimage to Forest Park in pursuit of the ultimate Muny experience. And each
experience was personal.

That eighth Sound of Music was a crowd favorite in 2000. Five summers later,
the Muny’s ninth Sound of Music outperformed Jesus Christ Superstar, West Side
Story and even the Muny premiere of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast to earn the top
attendance honor. One might have thought that with the passing decades, and with
the emergence of newer, more youth-oriented musicals, the popularity of Rodgers
and Hammerstein would diminish. Not so. In Forest Park, their 60-year staying
power is unprecedented. Since 2000, the Muny has staged another ten productions
of staples like South Pacific, Oklahoma! and The King and I, which brings the grand
total of Rodgers and Hammerstein productions to 64.

In 2008 Broadway rediscovered South Pacific. The acclaimed Lincoln Center
Theater revival was nominated for 11 Tony Awards (including one for Muny vet
Danny Burstein’s portrayal of Luther Billis) and received seven. New York Times col-
umnist Frank Rich, who from 1980 to 1993 was America’s most influential theater
reviewer, wrote an article in which he revealed that until the Lincoln Center produc-


Simone in the title role of Aida, 2006.
Photo by Jim Herren


tion, he had never seen South Pacific. Why not? Because after the original 1949 pro-
duction, South Pacific never received a Broadway revival.

If only Frank Rich had ventured west to St. Louis, between 1955 and 2003
he’d have had nine opportunities to experience South Pacific. Here is one difference
between Broadway and the Muny: Every decade or so, the New York theater redis-
covers Oklahoma! and The King and I, even eventually South Pacific. When these
same musicals play Forest Park, they are welcomed home as dear friends.

***

As the Muny navigated its ninth decade, once again theater tastes were changing.
Broadway’s new “mega-musicals” – mostly sung-thru shows that relied on specta-
cle and special effects for their ultimate impact – began to find their way to Forest
Park. Miss Saigon, renowned for its onstage helicopter, came to the Muny in 2001. A
helicopter may have been audacious and startling for Broadway, but the Muny had
already been there/done that decades earlier: In 1967, the KMOX Radio weather
chopper was used in Superman. (Everything old is new again.)

In 2006 Muny audiences were introduced to Elton John and Tim Rice’s excit-
ing new “take” on Verdi’s Aida. But the Ethiopian princess was no stranger to Forest
Park. She first played here in 1917, two years before the Municipal Opera was cre-
ated, as the inaugural attraction at America’s first open-air municipal theater. That
grandiose mounting featured 75 ballet dancers, an orchestra of 125 and a singing
chorus of 500. Not even Broadway spectacle could compete with those figures.

In addition to the mega-musicals, the new century also ushered in a prolific
new era of children’s programing. When the Municipal Opera came into being in
1919, Walt Disney was an aspiring young cartoonist in Kansas City, still four years


An elaborate set for The Muny’s premiere production of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, 2006.
Photo by Jim Herren


away from founding a cartoon studio in Hollywood. Perhaps it was always destined
that Disney and the Muny should intersect. Throughout their mutual existences
both organizations have shared the same abiding interest in reaching out to young
audiences. Both appreciate that the arts are an acquired taste. St. Louis has the
best-informed musical theater audiences of any city in America, in large measure be-
cause children who were taken to the Muny to see the likes of Babes in Toyland, The
Wizard of Oz and Peter Pan continued to cherish musical theater as adults.

The Muny’s association with the Disney franchise began in 1969 with the
world stage premiere of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Since the creation of Dis-
ney Theatrical Productions, which has expanded Disney animation to the live stage,
such beloved characters as Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, Mary Poppins and Tarzan
have charmed hundreds of thousands of young (often first-time) Munygoers. Dis-
ney’s triumphant return to Forest Park began in 2005 with Beauty and the Beast. In
the title roles, Sarah Litzsinger and James Clow led a cast featuring four esteemed
members of Paul Blake’s floating repertory ensemble: Bruce Adler, Nat Chandler,
Ken Page and Lee Roy Reams. The production was so vibrant, St. Louis Post-Dis-
patch theater critic Judith Newmark felt compelled to remind readers that “it’s the
Muny’s own production, not a tour.”

***

Paul Blake’s love of musical theater led him to recreate many unforgettable Broad-
way moments on the Muny stage. In 2007 choreographer Liza Gennaro recreated
the original Bob Fosse choreography for the famed “Steam Heat” number in The
Pajama Game. Her father, Peter Gennaro, was one of the three original “Steam Heat”
dancers on Broadway in 1954. Blake also gave Liza Gennaro the opportunity to
replicate her father’s Tony Award-winning choreography for Annie when the Muny
staged that musical in 2004.


Kate Baldwin as Maria, in THE SOUND OF MUSIC, 2005.
Photo by Jim Herren


Two of the three lovely Boylan Sisters (“You’re Never Fully Dressed Without
a Smile”) in that production were played by youngsters Betsy Wolfe and Ashley
Brown, both of whom have since enjoyed success on Broadway. Betsy Wolfe recently
starred in the hit musical, Waitress. Ashley Brown enacted the title role in Broadway’s
Mary Poppins. Both actresses joined the Muny ensemble in 2003. “It was such a
great time in my life,” Brown recalls. “That’s where I got my Equity card. I was still
in college, but when I was chosen for the Muny I felt that I could finally call myself
a professional. I auditioned as a singer. Then they made me a Follies girl in Crazy for
You, and I had to learn the original Susan Stroman choreography. That really taught
me how to tap dance. I tapped on Broadway in Mary Poppins because in St. Louis I
had to learn Crazy for You in a week.”

Ashley Brown and Betsy Wolfe are but two of many current Broadway stars
who received valuable early experience in Forest Park. In 2001, four years before she
won the Tony Award for her performance in The Light in the Piazza, Victoria Clark
romped through Brigadoon. In 2002, long before her stints in Wicked and, more re-
cently, the acclaimed Come From Away, St. Louis-born Kendra Kassebaum portrayed
the sexy Val in A Chorus Line. In 2005, one year before receiving the first of his six
Tony Award nominations, Danny Burstein returned to the Muny for The Sound of
Music. That same Sound of Music introduced Munygoers to Kate Baldwin. Baldwin
returned in 2006 to star in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. The following summer she
played feisty Babe Williams in The Pajama Game and sensuous Irene Malloy in Hello,
Dolly! (a role she would repeat on Broadway a decade later opposite Bette Midler and
then Bernadette Peters). Thus, St. Louis audiences embraced Baldwin’s work long
before, in 2008, the New York Times hailed her as “a discovery.”

Beginning in 2001, Kirkwood High School graduate Colin Donnell spent
five summers in the Muny chorus before heading off for the Big Apple. (In 2006 the
New York Times found him “boyishly gorgeous” as John Truett, the boy next door,


Ozzie Smith in the title role of The Wizard of Oz, 2001.
Photo by Jim Herren


in an off-Broadway staging of Meet Me in St. Louis.) But Donnell’s big break came as
the male lead in the 2011 Broadway revival of Anything Goes. At an awards ceremo-
ny that spring, Donnell re-introduced himself to Lee Roy Reams, who often starred
at the Muny when Donnell was in the chorus. Donnell reminded Reams of a day
when the older (and wiser) actor gave the youngster some unsolicited advice. “Why
do you wear that rag around your head?” Reams disdainfully asked. “Why don’t you
straighten up? If you want to be in the theater, clean yourself up. Start cutting your
hair and get those rags off your head.”

“I took your advice,” Broadway’s newest leading man said, stating the obvious.

Like a proud papa, Reams beamed at the former Muny chorister, “And look at
you now.”

***

There are those specific Broadway excerpts – “Steam Heat” in The Pajama Game,
“The Waiter’s Gallop” in Hello, Dolly! – that the Muny has faithfully recreated. Then
there is another kind of moment – a Muny moment – a tiny piece of time that a
Munygoer never forgets. We remember these precious moments as vividly as if they
were part of our lives. Consider:

**In July 2001, former St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Osborne Earl Smith,
nicknamed “the Wizard” due to his defensive brilliance, enacted the title role in the
Muny’s tenth staging of The Wizard of Oz. At the suggestion of Bruce Adler, who
played the Cowardly Lion, when Smith announced to Dorothy and her compatriots,
“I am the mighty Wizard of Oz,” the novice actor then ad libbed, “But folks around
here just call me Ozzie.” Audiences roared with glee.


Ken Page, recreating his iconic role of Old Deuteronomy in CATS, 2004.
Photo by Jim Herren


**In July 2003, Michel Bell brought audiences surging to their feet when, as
the weary stevedore Joe, he sang “Ol’ Man River” in the Muny’s 14th Show Boat.
Bell had first played Joe in Forest Park 11 years earlier. Then he repeated the role
hundreds of times on Broadway in the acclaimed 1994 revival. Now, in 2003, his
understanding more profound, Bell’s organ-like voice elevated Oscar Hammerstein’s
lyrics into an anthem of endurance. In 90-degree heat, Bell sent chills through the
audience.

**In July 2009 St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bill McClellan attended the
seventh staging of Meet Me in St. Louis. “There are two things every St. Louisan
ought to do,” McClellan advised his readers, “catch Chuck Berry at his monthly
show at Blueberry Hill in the Delmar Loop, and see a production of ‘Meet Me in St.
Louis’ at the Muny.” Five years later McClellan wrote again about that production.
This time he singled out a favorite moment: “I remember watching ‘Meet Me in St.
Louis’ at the Muny years ago. The father wanted to move the family to New York
where he had been offered a promotion, but they resisted. They loved St. Louis. Fi-
nally, he relented, announcing his decision to the family: ‘We’ll stay in St. Louis until
we all rot,’ he shouted.

“I cried for joy. I know I wasn’t alone. He was speaking to us all. There was
something about the setting – the Muny, Forest Park, a summer night. How could
one not love St. Louis at such a time?”

Actors too treasure special moments. Ken Page created the role of Old Deu-
teronomy on Broadway in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s long-running musical Cats. But
Page did not perform the show outdoors until 2004 in Forest Park. “I will never for-
get the first time I heard ‘Memory’ sung on the Muny stage,” Page recalls. “The song
is based on a fragment poem by T. S. Eliot called ‘Rhapsody on a Windy Night.’ A
wind kicked up right before Judy McLane walked center stage to sing ‘Memory.’ The


Lee Roy Reams as Albert Peterson, in The Muny’s BYE BYE BIRDIE, 2011.
Photo by Jim Herren


wind was lifting her tail, and the tail was waving behind her. There was a full moon.
I told Judy later, ‘You had no idea how beautiful it was.’” (Judith Newmark wrote
in the Post-Dispatch, “Judy McLane delivers a ‘Memory’ that could melt a heart of
stone.”) “I sat there,” Page continued, “and I thought to myself, this is about as good
as theater gets. Cats really did take on a different life at the Muny.”

Five weeks later the 2004 season closed with 42nd Street. Beth Leavel played
Dorothy Brock: “There I was onstage, with a breeze blowing my beautiful chiffon
gown in the light of a full moon, singing ‘I Only Have Eyes for You.’ As I sang, I
told myself, ‘Remember this moment forever.’ There’s nothing like the Muny.”

***

At the end of the 2011 season, after having shepherded 154 productions over 22
summers, executive producer Paul Blake retired. As a final gift to St. Louis, he intro-
duced some impressive young talent to the Muny stage. Rob McClure in Little Shop
of Horrors, Patti Murin in The Little Mermaid and Tony Yazbeck in Singin’ in the Rain
all made their debuts in 2011. But the most poignant casting occurred in the season
closer. Bye Bye Birdie brought Blake full circle. In 1990 Birdie was the first musical he
directed in Forest Park; now another Birdie was his swan song. Blake filled the lead-
ing roles with four valued members of his floating stock company. Over 22 summers
he had cast Andrea Burns, Leslie Denniston, Lewis J. Stadlen and Lara Teeter a com-
bined 48 times. As they cavorted through Birdie, the four performers carried 22 years
of Muny history on their shoulders. In this final Paul Blake production, it was as if
the ghosts of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof , Horace Vandergelder in Hello, Dolly!, Mrs.
Anna in The King and I, Billy Early in No, No, Nanette, Laurey in Oklahoma!, Don
Lockwood in Singin’ in the Rain and Maria in West Side Story had all returned to say
goodbye.


The 2012 Season program cover, designed by Mary Engelbreit.


Now it was time for the forging of new traditions.

***

Muny president and CEO Denny Reagan did not have to look far to find a new
executive producer. Mike Isaacson worked just three miles away at the Fabulous Fox
Theater on Grand Boulevard. In association with Fox Theatricals, one of the leading
theatrical producers in the United States, Isaacson had produced plays and musicals
on Broadway, in London and on national tours.

A native of Wisconsin, Isaacson’s theater life began on Grand Boulevard soon
after he arrived in 1984 to attend St. Louis University. Upon learning that the newly
renovated Fox Theatre needed ushers, he was there. Eighteen years later, when the
company’s producing arm, Fox Theatricals, made its presence known on Broadway
with the Tony Award-winning Thoroughly Modern Millie, he was there. Mike Isaac-
son became the ninth person since 1930 to helm the Muny’s artistic reins. Seven of
his eight predecessors lived in New York City; one came from Minneapolis. Isaacson
would be the first Muny executive producer to live year-round in St. Louis.

Monday, June 21, 2012, was a night of new beginnings. Isaacson’s debut pro-
duction was, appropriately enough, Thoroughly Modern Millie. Renowned St. Louis
graphic artist Mary Engelbreit designed a special playbill cover that celebrated the
Muny’s generational span. For Engelbreit, the design was personal: Her first date
with her husband was in the Muny free seats. (They saw Yul Brynner in The King and
I.) The new executive producer took to the stage to introduce himself and to remind
the opening-night audience that “there is no place like the Muny in this nation or
in this world.” He informed the audience that during the past 93 years 53,225,987
theatergoers had attended productions in Forest Park. Then he presented a Thorough-
ly Modern Millie so highly polished and meticulously detailed that viewers could be


PIRATES! (OR GILBERT & SULLIVAN PLUNDER’D), 2012
Photo by Phillip Hamer


excused for thinking that Isaacson had been producing Muny musicals for years.

Isaacson’s second show, a sizzling rendering of John Kander and Fred Ebb’s
Chicago, marked that musical’s first Forest Park showcase in more than three de-
cades. For Kander, who attended the production, returning to the Muny was a kind
of homecoming. He recalled that as a child growing up in Kansas City he loved to
spend summer weekends with family friends in St. Louis. Saturday nights meant
going to the Muny.

The third production, Disney’s Aladdin, played Forest Park 20 months be-
fore it opened on Broadway. The next show, the Muny debut of Dreamgirls, allowed
Broadway star Jennifer Holliday to reprise her Tony Award-winning role from 1981.

Pirates! (or, Gilbert & Sullivan Plunder’d) was an updated version of the 1879
operetta The Pirates of Penzance as seen through the prism of the Pirates of the Carib-
bean movie franchise. By evening’s end, the vast amphitheater was shot through with
more confetti than St. Louis has seen since Charles Lindbergh was feted in 1927.
The boisterous romp was co-conceived by former St. Louisan (and Kirkwood High
School graduate) John McDaniel. The Broadway conductor, who became a familiar
face to television viewers as musical director of The Rosie O’Donnell Show, em-
bodies generations of young hopefuls whose lives were changed because of evenings
spent in Forest Park. “I grew up attending the Muny,” McDaniel recalled. “I spent
most of my time in the free seats. In 1974 I saw Bernadette Peters and Robert Pres-
ton in Mack and Mabel. In 1976 I saw Zero Mostel do Fiddler on the Roof, Angela
Lansbury as Mame, Yul Brynner in The King and I and Patti LuPone in The Baker’s
Wife. All in the same season! The next summer I saw Carol Channing in Hello, Dolly!
This was much more than just entertainment. The Muny provided me with a theater
education. I became passionate about musical theater in Forest Park.” Pirates! allowed
McDaniel to fulfill a lifelong ambition: He got to work at the Muny.


The big tap number in 42ND SREET, 2012.
Photo by Phillip Hamer


After a cheerfully naïve Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Isaac-
son’s debut summer ended with a lush staging of the venerable Rodgers and Ham-
merstein classic, The King and I. Thanks to the engaging performances of Kevin Gray
and Laura Michelle Kelly in the title roles, the 61-year-old musical felt fresh and
ready to be rediscovered.

In addition to presenting a crisp new product onstage, Isaacson began to
re-envision the entire backstage operation, creating key new staff positions. “Since
Mike has taken over,” Reagan says, “people know what is expected of them. And
when people know what is expected, they strive to exceed expectations.”

“It’s hard to put on a musical,” Isaacson acknowledges. “But at the Muny we’re
creating something together, and that can be inspirational.” From that inspiration
derive still more luminous Muny moments.

A few candidates from the Isaacson years:

**In Mary Poppins, during “Supercalifragalisticexpialidocious” whirling dervish
Rob McClure slides across the entire length of the Muny proscenium as if he’s steal-
ing second base.

**At the end of Act One in 42nd Street, an ensemble of 50 morphs into a re-
lentless, tap-crazed cast of thousands.

**In Young Frankenstein, “Puttin’ on the Ritz” explodes into a manic ode to joy
that utilizes every top hat and cane in St. Louis.

**In her Muny debut in The Unsinkable Molly Brown, the lithe Beth Malone
tears the stuffings out of “I Ain’t Down Yet” as she scampers up and down ladders


Eric Idle joins the cast of SPAMALOT for the curtain call, 2013.
Photo by Phillip Hamer


with the dexterity of an Olympian.

In June 2013 the rain came. Constant showers forced the cancellation of
all outdoor rehearsals for the season opener, the Muny premiere of Monty Python’s
Spamalot. On opening night the courageous cast performed the show onstage for
the very first time. After the curtain call, a relieved John O’Hurley, the production’s
intrepid King Arthur, stepped forward to exclaim, “Against all odds, it happened!”
Then O’Hurley surprised the audience by introducing Eric Idle, one of the origi-
nal cast members of the fabled 1970s Monty Python TV series. Idle, who wrote the
scatterbrained book and lyrics for Spamalot, sauntered onstage. “I was here for your
monsoons,” he said. Idle proceeded to lead the cast and audience in the show’s signa-
ture anthem, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.”

“Wasn’t that great?” a middle-aged man asked his companion as they strode
out of the amphitheater after the impromptu sing-along. “It was better than great,”
the woman replied. “It was thrilling.” Chalk up another Muny moment.

Against all odds, it happened! John O’Hurley was describing one performance,
but he might have been summarizing an entire century. Against all odds, it hap-
pened: A once-improbable idea had become a civic treasure. An outlandish experi-
ment in outdoor summer theater had become an American theater tradition. A grove
of trees in a city park had become a storied intersection where gifted directors, chore-
ographers, designers and performers continue to make theater history.

***

On Sunday, June 7, 2015, a different kind of theater history: Mike Isaacson and
his producing partner Kristin Caskey stood on the Radio City Music Hall stage and
accepted the Tony Award for Fun Home, the ground-breaking Best Musical of the


An audience with umbrellas, sitting out the rain delay, 2016.
Photo by Phillip Hamer


Broadway season. Eight nights later, prior to the ninth incarnation of Lerner and
Loewe’s My Fair Lady, artistic director and executive producer Mike Isaacson (his ti-
tle, expanded) stood on the James S. McDonnell stage in Forest Park to welcome the
opening-night audience at the onset of the 97th consecutive Muny season.

It poured all week long. The Friday night performance endured two rain delays
that totaled one hour 45 minutes. Twice, the vast audience sought cover under the
time-tested pergolas, structures that symbolize the Muny’s open-air spirit. To watch
a throng of thousands patiently wait out the elements – to observe strangers engag-
ing in warm, spontaneous conversations – is to be reminded anew that the Muny is
indeed the people’s theater. For 99 years Muny audiences have known the risks, but
they also have reaped the rewards. So what if there’s a little rain? Where would they
rather be? An occasional rainfall is part of the grand adventure in Forest Park; the
very sound of thunder has become part of the musical soul of St. Louis.

After the first deluge, as the stage was being mopped for the umpteenth time
in 97 years, Denny Reagan stood at Gate One monitoring the proceedings. “The
story of the Muny is the story of continuity defined by change,” the CEO mused.
“For everyone who lives in St. Louis today, the Muny is a given; it has always been
here. But try to imagine what this theater looked like in the 1920s and ’30s. Every-
thing has changed – the seats, the lighting, the quality of the sound amplification.
Yet one thing has never changed, and that is the absolutely admirable behavior of the
audience when it rains. They want to be here, and they are willing to wait, as if they
somehow know that to see a show at the Muny is to participate in history, and that
can be an enriching experience. On a clear night, when the performance is under-
way, from my vantage point here at Gate One I can scan the entire amphitheater.
The spotlights spill into the house, and I have the privilege of seeing all these thou-
sands of people watching the show, engaged, involved, responsive. What a great way
to end the day!”


Fireworks finale during the Centennial Gala Show, An Eveneing with the Stars.
Photo by Zach Dalin


Or, on that rarest of occasions, to begin the morning. At 12:55 a.m. Saturday
morning, Anthony Andrews as Henry Higgins finally was able to ask Alexandra Sil-
ber, “Eliza? Where the devil are my slippers?”

As the long-belated and much-deserved curtain call began, Reagan noted,
“This is the longest that any show has run in the half-century I’ve been here.” Even as
he spoke, 3,000 cheering theatergoers remained in the damp auditorium, savoring a
Muny milestone they would not soon forget.

So the saga continues.

###


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