By Lynn Venhaus
With the nostalgic glow of scrapbook memories, the toe-tapping and hummable “Smokey Joe’s Café” opened The Muny’s eagerly anticipated 103rd season.

In this spirited localized production of the longest-running musical revue in Broadway history, the creative team imagined a soulful stroll down memory lane, intersecting a generation’s familiar soundtrack with Gaslight Square, one of the city’s most iconic neighborhoods.

And just like that, the U.S.’s oldest and largest outdoor theater demonstrated why it’s an essential part of St. Louis summers.

It had been over 700 days since we were last gathered under the stars in Forest Park – at “Matilda,” to be exact, which ran Aug. 5-11, 2019.

Nobody does what the Muny does, and did we miss it! On Monday, warm-and-fuzzy feelings energized the crowd of 5,956, who collectively exhaled and shared a glorious moment, sprinkled with pixie dust, during a pleasant July evening.

“You’re here. You made it through!” exclaimed Mike Isaacson, executive producer and artistic director, with palpable joy.

One glance at that expansive stage and we were home.

Photo by Phillip Hamer

The impressive scenic design by Edward E. Haynes Jr., who was responsible for the bright and playful fantasy world of “The Wiz” in 2019, included realistic facades of Crystal Palace, Jack Carl’s 2¢ Plain (a New York-style deli), Annadel’s Olde-Fashioned Ice Cream Parlor, Smokey Joe’s Grecian Terrace and a Sinclair service station built into the streetscape.

That bygone-era theme continued in Kevan Loney’s video design and Rob Denton’s lighting design, which bathed the nightclub scenes in neon and stardust.

In its heyday, Gaslight Square was the entertainment district in St. Louis – located between Olive and Boyle in the eastern portion of the Central West End. Attracting bohemians, hipsters and the well-heeled, it was known for comedy, dining and dancing. Such rising stars as Barbra Streisand, Lenny Bruce, Woody Allen and The Smothers Brothers appeared in venues there. By the late ‘60s, urban decay took over and people were flocking to the suburbs.

Astute observers will be able to pick out “Easter eggs,” those clever nuggets from the past that mean something to fans — and a major find is shopping bags with the Stix, Baer and Fuller logo. There’s a Sealtest Dairy ad on a back cover – and more blasts from the past.

Never underestimate the emotional connection shared by a live audience, listening to a talented mix of performers sing their hearts out.

As we are all aware of how a global coronavirus pandemic disrupted our lives during the past 16 months, The Muny had been forced to cancel its 102nd season in 2020 – for the first-time ever – and moved five shows to this year, which received the green light when it was deemed safe to do so. Isaacson noted that the performers hadn’t been able to “do what they do” either.

Enter an eclectic cast of nine (five guys, four women), who could be classified as “acting singers” – and their strong interpretations created easily identifiable vignettes during musical numbers. All but three were making their Muny debut.

Photo by Phillip Hamer

Robust ovations began early, even before they harmonized in the first number “Neighborhood,” and continued through the enduring catalogue of prolific lyricist Jerry Leiber and composer Mike Stoller, for a total of 39 songs, mostly hits from the 1950s and 1960s.

Mutual fans of rhythm-and-blues, Leiber and Stoller collaborated on a pop-rock sound known as “crossover” music back in the day. Their catchy melodies and tender ballads are thread together without a storyline or a chronological order.

From the dance party that is “Baby, that is Rock and Roll” to the classic Drifters’ chart-climber “On Broadway,” the songs vary in mood and tempo.

For the most part, they reflect a more innocent time, especially the amusing novelty songs heard on transistor radios — golden oldies “Charlie Brown,” “Yakety Yak,” “Poison Ivy” and “Love Potion No. 9.”

The assembled artists are a balanced group of pros with Broadway and national tour credits. By the time they united for a moving finale of “Stand by Me,” each performer had a knockout rendition.

First-timer Charl Brown. who was nominated for a Tony for his portrayal of Smokey Robinson in “Motown: The Musical,” showcased his smooth style and wide register with “There Goes My Baby” and “Young Blood.”

Immediately, the audience reacted to Christopher Sam’s rich, deep baritone, and his silky delivery wowed on “Spanish Harlem,” “Loving You” and “Dance with Me.” It’s easy to picture him as Mufasa in “The Lion King” on Broadway.

Photo by Phillip Hamer

Belter Tiffany Mann was sensational with “Fools Fall in Love” and “Hound Dog,” soaring with the gospel tinged “Saved,” which closed the first act with a flourish. Mann, quickly a favorite, was in “Be More Chill” and “Waitress” on Broadway.

The charismatic Mykal Kilgore brought the house down with a passionate “I (Who Have Nothing).” He was Annas in the Muny’s 2018 “Jesus Christ Superstar” and part of the NBC live television concert version earlier that Easter, and also in the network’s live “The Wiz.”  

Excellent dancers Hayley Podschun and Michael Campayno stood out with “Teach Me How to Shimmy.” Podschun, the dance captain, starred as Dainty June in the Muny’s 2018 “Gypsy,” and touched with her sweet solo “Falling.”

Campayno, who played opposite Tony winner Stephanie J. Block in “The Cher Show,” channeled his inner Elvis Presley to lead a peppy “Jailhouse Rock,” and charmed with “Ruby Baby.”

Podschun teamed with Nasia Thomas on a sassy “Trouble.” Thomas, who was in the 2015 “Hairspray” Muny ensemble and played Little Eva in “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” on Broadway, sang “Don Juan” solo.

In a take-note debut, Dee Roscioli, a long-running Elphaba in “Wicked,” showed versatility in “I Keep Forgettin’” and “Pearl’s a Singer.”. The females all have frisky fun in “I’m a Woman.”

A Smokey Joe’s veteran, expressive Jason Veasey paired with Thomas on “You’re the Boss,” and lead the men in the burlesque homage, “Little Egypt.”

Mykal Gilmore sings “I (Who Have Nothing)” — Photo by Phillip Hamer



Many of the lyrics, being from a different time decades ago, feature sexual innuendo and set society roles. That means it is preferable for more mature audiences, not the wee ones.

Music Director Abdul Hamid Royal, a Tony Award nominee and NAACP Image Award winner for “Five Guys Named Moe,” nimbly conducted the skilled musicians placed on stage, initially behind a storefront and then in plain view during the second act.

Choreographer Josh Walden designed the movements based on original choreography by director Marcia Milgrom Dodge, with whom he has worked before. He wove in the buoyant Muny Teen youth ensemble with aplomb.

Dodge, a frequent Muny collaborator, had helmed “Smokey Joe’s Café” in Chicago, winning a Jefferson Award. Her vision here added oomph to the characters’ stories, and the ensemble seamlessly slipped into specific archetypes.

Costume designer Sully Ratke created characters’ backstories with a keen eye for vintage wardrobes, and the retro apparel captured their personas, especially snazzy hats. Their looks were accented with spot-on wig design by Kelley Jordan.

The sound design by John Shivers and David Patridge was crisp and did not have any noticeable issues.

At an estimated run time of two hours, 11 minutes, the Tony-nominated musical from 1995 zipped along in swift fashion.

Those who like a beefier story with their musical interludes will not be satisfied by the structure, but if you expect a concert-type experience, then you know what is in store.

What is surprising is how the elements all came together to elevate a conventional revue into a more layered theatrical experience. By expanding on what’s considered routine entertainment, the show — directed and performed with verve — is a cut above the ordinary.

Projecting genuine affection for the material and each other, this cheerful cast and splendid creative team achieved its shining moment. And voila! A community was reborn and welcomed back.

I will never take this tradition for granted ever again.

A Muny premiere, “Smokey Joe’s Café” opened July 26 and runs through Sunday, Aug. 1 at 8:15 p.m. on the outdoor stage in Forest Park. Emerson is the 2021 season sponsor.

For more information, visit www.muny.org. For tickets, visit muny.org or call (314) 361-1900 ext. 1550.

To stay connected virtually and to receive the latest updates, please follow The Muny on their social media channels, including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Jack Carl’s vintage postcard of Gaslight Square.

Muny Photos by Phillip Hamer.

By Lynn Venhaus
Managing Editor
Eureka! A robust makeover to an unremarkable ‘50s era musical “Paint Your
Wagon” has hit pay dirt on the Muny stage.

Those behind the new edition have dreamed as big as the
characters in this fresh look at the American identity, those yearning for a
better life who came over land and by sea, as many as 300,000 during the
rough-and-tumble California Gold Rush.

It’s one of our nation’s most significant tipping points (1848-1855).
The musical, set in a mining camp in 1853, has everything we associate with
those rugged settlers – the wild untamed west, the wide-open spaces and the
pioneer spirit, only this version sharpens the American melting pot feel.

Despite its Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe pedigree,
the 1951 homage to the Old West had fallen out of favor – not that it ever was
a hot property, for it had only run on Broadway for 289 performances. And then,
there was the much-maligned 1969 movie starring those songbirds Lee Marvin and
Clint Eastwood (27 percent on Rotten Tomatoes!).

The latest incarnation, developed by the Frederick Loewe
Foundation and playwright Jon Marans, has new orchestrations, vocal
arrangements, dance and characters – and presents the reimagined story through
a different lens. You won’t be able to forget this one, an unvarnished snapshot
that touches on bigotry and prejudices as fortune seekers headed West.

Photo by Phillip HamerMarans has focused on historical accuracy and made deep
incisions so that it’s not merely unsatisfying filler between the signature
songs “They Call the Wind Maria,” “I Talk to the Trees” and “Wand’rin’ Star,”
but a journey about lives and loves with real emotional heft.

Those compelling changes are as much a surprise as Josh
Rhodes’ inspired direction and innovative choreography, assisted by Lee
Wilkins, because they have rescued an otherwise lightweight show and connected
with a modern audience.

Marans wrote the 1996 Pulitzer Prize-nominated play “Old
Wicked Songs,” a character study about a Holocaust survivor and his burnt-out
pupil. A New Jewish Theatre production won Best Drama at the St. Louis Theater
Circle Awards in 2017.

The story still has brawny prospector Ben Rumson (Matt Bogart) as the strong center, the enterprising leader among the rag-tag settlers of “No Name City,” but in the first act, the only female is not his daughter, as the earlier incarnations, but his lovable new wife, Cayla (Mamie Parris).

He ‘wins’ her in a bidding contest, like a commodity, for
she has been abused by her despicable lout of a husband (Michael James Reed,
yelling at 11). Well, that was awkward. Parris, so winning as Irene in the 2014
“Hello, Dolly!,” conveys genuine warmth and caring, and her lilting voice is
lovely.

Mamie Parris and Matt Bogart. Photo by Phillip HamerBogart and Parris have combustible chemistry, and their harmonies mesh beautifully. While Bogart didn’t seem to be as smooth as other performers on opening night, he delivered an electric “They Call the Wind Maria,” and his other numbers showcased his commanding baritone.

After striking it rich, sturdy Ben becomes the boomtown’s
chief developer. Now named Rumson City, the outpost becomes home to Rumson
Palace in the second act, a place for socializing and gambling that he
envisioned for everybody.

Michael Schweikardt’s scenic design is a distinct mix of awe-inspiring
panoramic exteriors and fresh-hewed lumber interiors. Lighting designer John
Lasiter makes the night sky glow while video design by Caite Hevner expanded picture
postcard vistas.

However, Ben’s one-world theory isn’t exactly practiced when his right-hand man Armando (Omar Lopez-Cepero), whose wealthy and cultured family lived in the Mexican territory of northern California,  takes a shine to Rumson’s feisty daughter, Jennifer (Maya Keleher), who has traveled from the East Coast to join her father.

Much to the horror of his college-educated daughter and wife,
Rumson will not accept the Armando-Jennifer union, therefore not practicing
what he preaches. His luster is dimmed, only to see him work through those
feelings.

Racism is rampant among the rowdy miners, who are frustrated
and fearful of the ‘foreigners.’ Two brothers from China, Ming Li (St. Louis
native Austin Ku) and Guang Li (Raymond J. Lee), once of royal lineage now just
wanting to survive; a down-on-his-luck Irish immigrant William (Bobby Conte
Thornton), who regrets leaving his family but is desperate to provide for them after
the Great Famine (aka Irish Potato Famine); two African-Americans, free man H.
Ford (Rodney Hicks) and slave Wesley (Allan K. Washington); and Europeans of
various nationalities all jostle for their piece of the pie.

Ku, Lee, Thornton, Hicks and Washington are outstanding talents who immersed themselves in these meatier roles. And the men revealed bold and controlled voices in such numbers as “How Can I Wait?” and “Four Hundred People Came to No Name City.”

Allan K. Washington and Rodney Hicks. Photo by Phillip HamerSome of the characters are contemptible, especially Preston
Truman Boyd as an intolerable loudmouth Jake, a Southerner who owns a tavern
and looks at all of life as transactional.

Sinai Tabak is conducting the Muny orchestra for the first
time, and the richly textured sound adds another layer of complexity to a testosterone-heavy
show. There is a harp among all the strings, and the sounds of country and bluegrass
impart an Americana homespun feel.

One is reminded how elegant and lyrical Lerner and Loewe
were, as this show was written in between the more successful “Brigadoon”
(1947) and “My Fair Lady” (1956). 

Photo by Phillip HamerThe dancing girls show up in the second act, in quite the
entrance – arriving by stagecoach, “There’s a Coach Comin’ In.” Two magnificent
Clydesdale horses pull them – and the audience went crazy.

Some of the lonely men lose their way and go a little batty,
and this 180-degree turn, while true to life, is disconcerting. Gold fever makes
some of the men envious, greedy and bitter. Things get ugly, reminding us that
while the high road is preferred, human nature suggests otherwise. This is harsh
and hard-hitting, recovering in a hail of hope. If you are expecting fluff,
this is not that kind of show, dancing girls aside.

Nevertheless, the performers are indeed the gold nuggets
enticing us to make the emotional investment. The vocal prowess on display is as
breathtaking as the scenery, so it’s unfortunate there was a myriad of uncharacteristic
sound issues Saturday – static, mics cutting out or not on for singers, and
rough patches. Sound design is by John Shivers and David Patridge.

“Paint Your Wagon” was one of those lackluster second-rate musicals whose contemporary overhaul is quite an accomplishment, and the Muny has polished it with tender loving care. You might as well forget any previous version.

A new world premiere production in Los Angeles, with a revised
libretto by David Rambo, ran from Nov. 23, 2004 to Jan. 9, 2005. Then a fall
2007 production by the Pioneer Theatre Company in Salt Lake City, Utah had a
cast of nearly 30. An Encores! Staged concert production in New York City in
March 2015 starred Keith Carradine as Rumson and Justin Guarini as Julio.

There is no Julio here, replaced by Armando. It’s a stronger role, and Lopez-Cepero unleashes a glorious voice in his standout performance. His “Carino Mio” duet with Keleher is lush and romantic.

Photo by Phillip HamerHelping to shape the in-the-works musical is a natural fit
for the Muny, for it presented spirited reboots of “The Unsinkable Molly Brown”
in 2017 and “The Wiz” last year. During the Mike Isaacson era, the emphasis on
imagination and the theme of home has been recurring elements. So, it’s no
surprise that the Mother Lode Muny is again a birthplace, producing in
association with On the Wagon Productions and Garmar Ventures.

By virtue of its American patchwork quilt make-up, “Paint Your Wagon” may remind people of “Oklahoma!” – especially that number pleading harmony, “The Farmer and the Cowman Should Be Friends,” but I recalled “Fiddler on the Roof” instead, a proud community clinging to its customs but having to move forward at great sacrifice for survival. In the West, hardships knocked down many a soul, but hope springs eternal in “Paint Your Wagon,” and smartly addressing changing tides so dramatically will be able to resonate. You can hear America singing with its varied voices. The Muny presents “Paint Your Wagon” evenings at 8:15 p.m. July 27 – Aug. 2. For more information, visit www.muny.org.

Bobby Conte Thornton as William. Photo by Phillip Hamer

By Lynn Venhaus
Managing Editor
A powerhouse cast makes sure we fall head-over-high-heels about “Kinky Boots,” a
flashy and fun musical that soars into the starry night at the Muny.

This regional premiere is polished to perfection. For the
first time, I understood the show’s heart and soul, and how its universality touched
people, becoming an international smash-hit and winning six Tony Awards, including
Best Musical, the Olivier Award and a Grammy for original cast recording.

The basic premise is simple yet resonates. It is inspired
by true events and a BBC documentary, which was adapted into a 2005 British feature
film with Chiwetel Ejiofor as Lola and Joel Edgerton as Charlie. A failing shoe
factory owner teams up with a drag queen to save his family business by
diversifying the product. That niche market in women’s footwear would be “kinky
boots” – bright, glittery sturdy stilettos made well to meet the needs of flamboyant
performers-in-drag.

Photo by Phillip Hamer

Charlie of Northampton, meet Simon of Clacton. They are
from different worlds, but share the weight of parental expectations and
self-acceptance issues. Their duet “I’m Not Your Father’s Son” is an
exclamation point on the matter. They work through this and more, all to the eclectic
beats of rockstar Cyndi Lauper’s first foray into show tunes, with new wave and
club music influences.

The unlikely pair find a common bond, as do the employees
in this relatable workplace comedy. One enlightened blue-collar bloke says: “When
you can change your mind, you can change the world!”

The message of tolerance is a fitting one for Gay Pride Month
as the musical celebrates individuality and inclusion. It’s wrapped in a
feel-good dance party with get-on-your-feet rhythms, and the cast is brimming
with vim and vigor.

Many elements make this first U.S. theatrical production
outside Broadway/national tours so special, but one factor is certain: casting
performers with experience in “Kinky Boots” was a stroke of genius. And it
shows in the brisk crisp and snappy staging.

Photo by Phillip Hamer

The theatricality of swaggering sparkplug J. Harrison Ghee
as Lola, who toured internationally in the role and was a Broadway replacement,
thrusts him into legendary diva status. Looking and sounding like Whitney
Houston in her prime, he tugs at everyone’s heartstrings in “Hold Me in Your
Heart.”

We are truly in “The Land of Lola,” as it’s obvious from Ghee’s
first entrance. During “Sex Is in the Heel,” he seizes the expansive stage,
strutting with major attitude. His moves in those high heels are a triumph over
physics.

The lithe and blithe Ghee showcases his dramatic flair and
knows how to get a laugh, tossing off book writer Harvey Fierstein’s pointed
barbs with ease.

Then there is Graham Scott Fleming as Charlie, who plays
the shoe factory heir apparent with conviction. His conflicts are genuine. However,
his vocal prowess is where he really shines.

His vocal range is well-suited for Tony-winner Lauper’s compositions,
and he interprets the heartfelt lyrics well, especially in “Step One” and “The
Soul of a Man.” He has had much success in Toronto, including nabbing a
Canadian theater award nomination for his performance as Charlie.

Tony-nominated Taylor Louderman, a native of Bourbon, Mo., who
began as a Muny Teen ten years ago, showcases her multiple talents reprising
the goofy lovestruck assembly line worker Lauren that she played on Broadway.

Photo by Phillip Hamer

In her standout number, “The History of Wrong Guys,” she demonstrates
her deft physical comedy skills and how she has come into her own. It’s a blissful
Muny moment. The crowd may not have noticed her at first for entrance applause,
but she sure earned a big ovation after that number.

The perky Louderman, with several Broadway credits and a
few key roles at the Muny – last seen as Amneris in “Aida” (the best thing
about that 2015 production), took off as Regina in “Mean Girls” to appear in
this show.

The ensemble is a tight mix, with Paul Whitty a standout as
bigoted foreman Don.

Photo by Phillip HamerJohn Scherer, a master of comic timing as evident in his
turns in “The Foreigner” and “Noises Off!” at The Repertory Theatre of St.
Louis, is hilarious as the old-school manager George.

So is Jen Perry, who reprises the role of saucy older
worker Trish she originated on Broadway.

Several cast members were in the Broadway production, which
opened April 2013 and ran for six years and 1,400 performances until April 7
this year, including Meryn Becket, Holly Davis and Maggie McDowell, and Angels Callan
Bergman, Ian Fitzgerald and Kyle Post. Angel Ricky Schroeder was in the
national tour.

Caroline Bowman, who plays Charlie’s unlikable
materialistic social-climbing fiancé Nicola, originated the role of Maggie and
then closed as Nicola in April. Ross Lekites plays Charlie’s friend Harry after
being in Broadway and national tour ensembles.

St. Louis performers are also an integral part of the
action. Omega Jones, in his debut as Simon Sr., has a tear-jerking moment at
the nursing home where Lola is entertaining. Veteran Zoe Vonder Haar is funny
as the Milan Stage Manager. Victor Landon and Khaydn M. Adams are the energetic
young Charlie and Simon characters respectively.

When the eight drag queens known as The Angels make their striking
entrance, it’s a magical Muny moment – and received an enthusiastic ovation.

Photo by Phillip HamerOther high-stepping moments include the Act One finale, “Everybody Say Yeah,” which is a marvel of movement on conveyor belts, and the rousing grand finale, “Raise You Up/Just Be,” which should empower everyone to “Feed your fire.”

Music Director Ryan Fielding Garrett, who conducted the “Kinky
Boots” national tour, skillfully drives the catchy tunes and heart-tugging
ballads.

The human connection is an important part of this show,
just as it is at the oldest and biggest outdoor theater in the country. And the
Muny connections for this show, I feel, have boosted its value and worth.
Namely, the original stylish direction and cheerful choreography of Jerry
Mitchell, one of Broadway’s most lauded artists who won a Tony Award for “Kinky
Boots” choreography. Involved in 50 Broadway shows, he earned his Equity card
at the Muny and was a Webster University student.

His work is recreated here by director DB Bonds, who played
Emmett in “Legally Blonde” eight years ago at the Muny, and choreographer Rusty
Mowery, who worked on Muny productions “Hairspray” and “Legally Blonde.”

Those special ties just boost the care you notice in this
production, a passion project for all involved.

Photo by Phillip HamerOn the technical side, the creative team’s work continues
to shine on the new stage with the upgrades, especially light, sound and video
screens.

Scenic Designer Michael Schweikardt’s grid work in the
Price and Sons Factory is efficient, functional and flows with purpose. His
glitzy touch to the Milan runway is as over the top as the boots – his ‘wow’
moment. Video Designer Shawn Duan seamlessly extended the expansive exterior
shots.

Also stepping up his game is Lighting Designer Nathan W.
Scheuer, who made sure the musical numbers glow and sparkle.

Co-sound designer John Shivers won a Tony Award for “Kinky
Boots.” He and David Patridge have been a team at the Muny since 2015.

Costume designer Gregg Barnes, two-time Tony winner for “The Drowsy Chaperone” and “Follies” revival, provides his impressive Tony-nominated “Kinky Boots” designs, and The Angels and Lola’s bold eye-popping outfits befit fashionistas. Costume coordination is by Lindsay McWilliams.

The wig work is also outstanding, with original design by Josh Marquette, and work by additional wig designer Kelley Jordan.

“Kinky Boots” finds its footing early on and grows in goodwill as people build upon their dream with helping hands. Endearing in portrayals and intent, its power is a slow build, but it’s lasting, and that is “The Most Beautiful Thing.” And you’ll walk away lifted by this new outlook.

The Muny presents “Kinky Boots” every evening at 8:15 p.m. June 17-25. For more information or for tickets, visit www.muny.org

Photo by Phillip Hamer

By Lynn Venhaus
Managing Editor
Broadway’s glorious past merges with The Muny’s dazzling state-of-the-art
present in “Guys and Dolls” for a sensational start to the second century that
bodes well for the future.
What an ideal show to show off the new stage and other upgrades made possible
through the Muny’s Second Century Campaign!

As impressive as the changes set out to be, all the spiffy
new elements made this endearing show sparkle – the redesigned stage allowed
the action flow smoothly, the sound was crystal clear (designers John Shivers
and David Patridge) and the lighting systems’ enhanced illumination by designer
Rob Denton and the expanded LED screens, with video designs by Nathan W.
Scheuer, were eye-catching. Director Gordon Greenberg was able to incorporate
the new downstage lifts into scenes. Overall, an A+ effort.

Besides the successful revelation, the weather was
tailor-made for the 101st season opener June 10. A crowd of 7,677 enjoyed
one of Broadway’s most delightful golden-age classics, filled with Frank
Loesser’s peppy and hummable musical numbers, sweet romance, and colorful
characters based on Damon Runyon’s short stories and given zip by the late
comedy writer Abe Burrows.

“Take Back Your Mink”Jaunty and joyous, “Guys and Dolls” combines hustling high rollers and honorable holy rollers in the bustle of the fabled Times Square, their intentions clashing when the gamblers want to be lucky and the evangelists want to save souls. Paul Tate dePoo III’s vibrant scenic design of neon signage and advertisements reflects a flashy bright lights, big city vibe that pops in every scene.

Once dubbed “the perfect musical comedy” by a critic and I
wholeheartedly agree, the Muny proved how evergreen the show can be, now in its
eighth time here and 15 years since the last one. The talent made sure this
first bicentennial production was a crowning achievement by integrating all the
new-fangled improvements seamlessly.

Zoe Vonder Haar, Orville Mendoza, Kennedy Holmes. Photo by Philip Hamer.Greenberg bathed this frothy concoction in the warm glow of
nostalgia while emphasizing the humor and elevating the romance. The high-spirited
cast injected it with zing through crisp and snappy movements, whether it was a
sharply choreographed number – those elastic dancers in “Crapshooters Dance”
and “Havana” made it fun — or the wise-guys singing Nathan Detroit’s praises
in “The Oldest Established.”
First-time Muny co-choreographers Lorin Latarro and Patrick O’Neill intertwined
different styles with energy and precision, and Music Director Brad Haak freshened
the songs, with arrangements by Larry Blank. Musicians were under a covered pit
for the first time, carrying the upbeat tempos well.
The creative team focused on the original 1950 roots and the rock-solid cast cheerfully
immersed themselves in this idiosyncratic world. One must accept its now dated
story as a period piece to fully appreciate the relationships. Calling women
“tomatoes” and “broads” is no longer acceptable, and no one in contemporary
times would, but this is from a bygone era – and displays how different men and
women roles were back then.

“Guys and Dolls” took Damon Runyon stories about New York
City from the 1920s and 30s, namely “The Idyll of Sarah Brown” and “Blood
Pressure,” with a nod to “Pick the Winner,” and radio comedy writer Abe Burrows
boosted Jo Swerling’s original script by giving the distinctive characters
Runyon’s unique vernacular, a mix of formal speech with slang. Damon, a
newspaperman and sportswriter, favored writing dialogue for gamblers, hustlers,
actors and gangsters.

However, this Runyonland appears more innocent. Detroit, the hapless but lovable mug behind the biggest crap game in NYC, keeps his adorable girlfriend Adelaide waiting for him to marry her after 14 years. The prim and proper Sarah Brown falls in love with the suave Sky Masterson in an opposites-attract storyline.

The script makes all of this seem logical and then throws in merry men named Benny Southstreet and Rusty Charlie, and it’s a surefire winner, especially with Kevin Cahoon hilarious as Harry the Horse and so is Brendan Averett as Big Jule.

From the first bars of the opening number “Fugue for
Tinhorns” to “The Happy Ending” finale, this cast connects with each other, and
ultimately, the audience.

As the sophisticated ladies man Sky Masterson, Ben Davis is
a welcome presence on the Muny stage, continuing his successful run of classic
male leads after Curly in “Oklahoma!” and Emile in “South Pacific.” He has
palpable chemistry with Brittany Bradford, who is one of the best Sarah Browns
I’ve ever seen (sometimes, the actors playing these different types don’t gel,
but this pair does). Their clashing couple delivers velvety-smooth ballads.

Bradford is quite a special talent, genuine in acting and a
splendid soprano. Her breakout number, “If I Were a Bell,” shows her
versatility. Their “I’ve Never Been in Love Before” superbly blends their
voices, another standout moment, and his sleek “My Time of Day” rendition was
terrific.

Davis propelled “Luck Be a Lady” to be one of the evening
highlights, aided by the crackerjack ensemble.

St. Louisan Kendra Kassebaum lights up the stage as Miss
Adelaide, and wow, what a home-grown triple threat. Bubbly and bouncy, she displays
impeccable comic timing in her fully dimensional lived-in performance.

She’s a fitting and funny foil for wacky Nathan, well-played by Jordan Gelber. Their “Sue Me” was on point, and “Adelaide’s Lament” is confident and comical. She leads the Hot Box Girls in a vivacious “A Bushel and a Peck” and “Take Back Your Mink.” (Tristan Raines’ costumes fit each role appropriately, but those purple-sequin gowns draped with the gray furs are stunning.)

Kassebaum and Bradford are a dynamic duo in “Marry the Man
Today” (just don’t wince at those lyrics).

The best scene, the second act showstopper that puts its indelible stamp on “Guys and Dolls,” is “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat.” A marvel of movement and pure jubilation, this version is made even more special by the surprise appearance of Kennedy Holmes, the Muny Kid who placed fourth on “The Voice” in 2018, belting out the usual General Cartwright solo. (Zoe Vonder Haar has replaced Doreen Montalvo as General Cartwright),

Orville Mendoza fits, well, nicely, as Nicely-Nicely
Johnson, who leads the number, and is dandy in his duet with Jared Gertner as
Benny in the title number “Guys and Dolls.”

As Arvide Abernathy, Ken Page has a twinkle in his eye and adds
poignancy to the “More I Cannot Wish You” number sung to his granddaughter,
Sarah. This is his 41st appearance at the Muny – and little-known
fact, he played Nicely-Nicely in the 1976 Broadway revival.

The musical has been revived two more times, in 1992 and
2009, with the 1992 version starring Nathan Lane and Faith Prince the most
acclaimed, winning four Tony Awards including Best Revival and running until 1995,
tallying 1,143 performances. The original “Guys and Dolls” won five Tony Awards
in 1951, including Best Musical, and has been a favorite among regional, school
and community groups for decades.

That renowned 1992 version’s spunk is evident in this Muny
production, but the cast makes it their own. They put a fresh sheen on the
characters, imbuing them with heart and humor, and it never sags.

This production is worth rejoicing about, starting out the
summer in swell fashion.

The Muny presents “Guys and Dolls” June 10 – 16 nightly at 8:15 p.m. in Forest Park. For tickets or more information, visit www.muny.org

Photos by Phillip Hamer.

Ken Page to Star in his 41st Muny Show

The Muny announced today its complete cast, design and production team for Guys and Dolls, the first show of its second century, June 10 – 16. Guys and Dolls is proudly sponsored by Wells Fargo Advisors.

“We soar into our second century with one of the most beloved musicals of the last century,” said Muny Artistic Director and Executive Producer Mike Isaacson. “I can’t wait to see this amazing production on our beautiful new stage. Luck be a producer, indeed.”

Joining the previously announced Ben Davis (Sky Masterson), Brittany Bradford (Sarah Brown), Jordan Gelber (Nathan Detroit) and Kendra Kassebaum (Miss Adelaide) are Ken Page (ArvideAbernathy), Doreen Montalvo (General Cartwright), Orville Mendoza (Nicely-Nicely Johnson), Jared Gertner (Benny Southstreet), Brendan Averett (Big Jule), Kevin Cahoon (Harry the Horse) and Rich Pisarkiewicz (Lt. Brannigan). A high-rolling ensemble completes this cast, including Calvin Cooper, Darien Crago, Colby Dezelick, Tyler Eisenreich, Whitney G-Bowley, Berklea Going, Julie Hanson, Jeff Kuhr, Alicia Lundgren, Erin N. Moore, Jevares Myrick, Michael Santomassimo, Michaeljon Slinger, Matthew Steffens, Keith Tyrone, Amy Van Norstrand, Jerry Vogel and Sharrod Williams. The company will also be joined by the Muny Kid and Teen youth ensemble.

As previously announced, Guys and Dolls is directed by Gordon Greenberg and co-choreographed by Lorin Latarro and Patrick O’Neill with music direction by Brad Haak.

This production includes scenic design by Paul Tate dePoo III, costume design by Tristan Raines, lighting design by Rob Denton, sound design by John Shivers and David Patridge, video design by Nathan W. Scheuer and wig design by Leah J. Loukas. Production stage manager is Nancy Uffner.

Ben Davis

BEN DAVIS (Sky Masterson) Muny: Jesus Christ Superstar (Pilate), Oklahoma! (Curly); South Pacific (Emile), Spamalot (Galahad). Ben was most recently seen as Cosmo Constantine in New York City Center’s Encores! Call Me Madam, opposite Carmen Cusack. Broadway: 2003 Tony Honor for La Bohème (Marcello), Dear Evan Hansen (Larry), Violet (Preacher), A Little Night Music, Les Misérables(Javert and Enjolras), Thoroughly Modern Millie (Trevor Graydon). Tours: The Sound of Music (Georg von Trapp), Spamalot (Galahad). Regional: Kiss Me, Kate (Fred/Petruchio) at The 5th Avenue Theatre. UK: BBC Proms Kiss Me, Kate (Fred/Petruchio). Concerts: Philly Pops, Boston Pops, LA Philharmonic, RTÉ and many others. Film/TV: Blue Bloods, A Hand of Bridge, The Magic Flute, 30 Rock, Numb3rs. www.benjaminjaydavis.com

Actor | New York | Headshot| Brittany Bradford

BRITTANY BRADFORD (Sarah Brown) Muny debut! Brittany was recently seen in Roundabout Theatre Company’s production of Merrily We Roll Along, staged by the critically-acclaimed Fiasco Theater. She made her Broadway debut last fall as Ophelia in Bernhardt/Hamlet opposite Janet McTeer. Additional credits: For Colored Girls… (Public Theater), Flyin’ West (Westport Country Playhouse), Family Resemblance (Eugene O’Neill), The Profane and Taming of the Shrew (Chautauqua Theater Company), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Ten Thousand Things Theater), Neighbors, AvenueQ and Next to Normal (Mixed Blood Theatre), Ragtime and Stick Fly (Park Square Theatre). 2018 graduate of The Juilliard School, Group 47. Credits: Father Comes Home from the Wars, Hoodoo Love, Triumph of Love, King Lear, Cymbeline, Christina Martinez and The Marriage of Bette and Boo. Co-Founder of HomeBase Theatre Collective. www.brittany-bradford.com

JORDAN GELBER (Nathan Detroit) Muny debut! Broadway: Sunday in the Park with George, Elf the Musical (Buddy), All My Sons, Avenue Q (original cast, special Outer Critics Circle Award). Off-Broadway: John Guare’s Nantucket Sleigh Ride (Lincoln Center Theater), Mike Leigh’s 2000 Years, Avenue Q, The Joke, Birth and After Birth. TV: Elementary, Mr. Robot, Mindhunter, Insatiable, Boardwalk Empire, Nurse Jackie, The Good Wife, Rescue Me, Ugly Betty, first three Law & Order series (recurring on SVU), The Sopranos, 100 Centre Street. Film: (upcoming) The Kitchen, Bleed for This, Dark Horse, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, Everyday People (IFP/Gotham Award nominee for Breakthrough Acting), Riding in Cars With Boys, Changing Lanes. BA, Stanford University; MFA, NYU Tisch Graduate Acting (2000 Laura Pels Award). www.JordanGelber.com

KENDRA KASSEBAUM (Miss Adelaide) Muny: A Chorus Line (Val). On Broadway, Kendra originated the role of Janice in the Tony-nominated production of Come From Away as well as Sam in Leap of Faith. She played Glinda in Wicked on Broadway, in San Francisco and on the first national tour (Helen Hayes nominee). Other New York: The Receptionist (MTC) and the Tony Award-winning, Grammy-nominated production of Assassins, both directed by Joe Mantello. Kendra made her Broadway debut in Rent. For the Roundabout, she performed the role of Petra in A Little Night Music starring Vanessa Redgrave and Natasha Richardson. Kassebaum’s regional appearances include Actors Theatre of Louisville, The 5th Avenue Theatre, ACT, Ordway and Florida Stage. Film: The Other Woman (with Natalie Portman and Lisa Kudrow).

Ken Page will be in his 41st Muny show

KEN PAGE(Arvide Abernathy) is proud to be part of the 101st season of The Muny. This will be his forty-first show on the stage and his fourth year as “the voice” of the theatre. Ken made his Broadway debut as Nicely-Nicely Johnson in the all-black revival of Guys and Dolls, receiving the Theatre World Award for his performance. This year, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from The St. Louis Arts & Education Council and directed a sold-out run of Love, Linda with Max & Louie Productions. Recent/upcoming: live-to-film concerts of Disney’s The Little Mermaid (Sebastian) at the Hollywood Bowl,Grumpy Old Men (La Mirada Theatre) and the UK live-to-film tour re-creating his role of Oogie Boogie in The Nightmare Before Christmas. 

DOREEN MONTALVO (General Cartwright) Muny debut! Broadway: On Your Feet! (Gloria, original Broadway cast); In the Heights (original Broadway cast, Drama Desk Award). Off-Broadway: Curvy Widow (Heidi, Westside Theatre), Giant (Lupe, The Public Theater), Flashdance The Musical (Louise), Mamma Mia! (Tanya); In the Heights (Camila, Westport Country Playhouse), American Mariachi(Denver Center/Old Globe), La Lupe (Lupe, Puerto Rican Traveling Theatre), In the Heights (37 Arts), Havana Under the Sea (Cecilia, INTAR Theatre). TV/Film: Law & Order, Elementary, Madam Secretary, The Tale of Timmy Two Chins, Smash, All My Children, One Life to Live. Recordings: American Soul/Latin Heart, Disney’s Moana soundtrack. Live: 54 Below, Joe’s Pub, The Metropolitan Room, The Duplex, Green Room 42. www.doreenmontalvo.com

ORVILLE MENDOZA (Nicely-Nicely Johnson) is thrilled to be back at The Muny where he got his Equity card 25 years ago in The King and I. Other Muny: Miss Saigon (2001), The King and I (2006), Godspell (2009). Broadway: Peter and the Starcatcher, Pacific Overtures. Most recently, the world premiere of The Heart of Rock and Roll (Old Globe, coming to Broadway). Previously, he toured with Small Mouth Sounds (Ars Nova). Off-Broadway: Found (Atlantic Theater Company), Pacific Overtures, Passion (Classic Stage Company); Romeo and Juliet, Timon of Athens and Road Show all at The Public Theater/NYSF. He’s worked all across the U.S. from La Jolla Playhouse to Long Wharf Theatre. TV: The Blacklist, Law & Order: CI and many commercials. Drama Desk nominee and Barrymore Award winner. www.orvillemendoza.com

JARED GERTNER (Benny Southstreet) Muny debut! Jared is best known for playing Elder Cunningham in The Book of Mormon on Broadway, on the first national tour and in London (Olivier nomination). Other New York: The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (Broadway) and Ordinary Days (off-Broadway, premiere). Regional: Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, Cincinnati Playhouse, Goodspeed, The Fulton, Cape Playhouse and Sacramento Music Circus. Television: Mom, Modern Family, 2 Broke Girls, Supernatural, Superior Donuts, How I Met Your Mother, Marvel’s Agent Carter, Ugly Betty, The Good Wife, American Dad, Family Guy and the popular Broadway-themed web series, Submissions Only. Jared also starred in an NBC pilot called How We Live. Film: Nightmare Cinema(upcoming), Smallfoot and Pup Star. Education: NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Twitter: @JaredGertner Instagram: @Jaredgertner1

BRENDAN AVERETT (Big Jule) is excited to make his Muny debut. Off-Broadway: Hamlet (Waterwell), Sam and Dede (Custom Made Theatre/59E59), Titus Andronicus (NY Shakespeare Exchange), The Killer, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (TFANA), As You Like It (Shakespeare in the Park), Massacre: Sing to Your Children (Rattlestick), Hamlet (Gallery Players), Passion Play (Epic Theatre Ensemble). Tours: Guys and Dolls. Regional: The Comedy of Errors, Kiss Me, Kate (Hartford Stage), Romeo and Juliet(Actors Theatre of Louisville), Of Mice and Men (Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park), Cyrano de Bergerac, The Tempest (Theatricum Botanicum), Henry V (California Shakespeare Company), Bloody Poetry, The Alchemist (Everyman Theatre), Measure for Measure, Guys and Dolls, The Swanne: Pt. III(Stratford Shakespeare Festival of Canada). TV/Film: Law & Order: SVU, Trapped in the Closet, Blossom. Former Associate Producer for NYSX’s The Sonnet Project.

KEVIN CAHOON (Harry the Horse) Muny: The Wizard of Oz and Spamalot. Broadway: The Wedding Singer, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Lion King, The Rocky Horror Show revival and The Who’s Tommy(debut). Off-Broadway: original Hedwig and The Angry Inch, How I Learned to Drive (Second Stage), The Foreigner (Roundabout, Lortel nomination), The Shaggs (Playwrights Horizons), The Wild Party (Manhattan Theatre Club), Hair and Babes in Arms (NY City Center Encores!). Regional: The Old Globe, Guthrie, Williamstown. TV: A Series of Unfortunate Events, Glow (upcoming), Nurse Jackie, Elementary, NCIS, Modern Family, The Mentalist, The Good Wife, CSI, Odd Mom Out, Six Degrees, Black Box, The Royale, Law & Order (original/CI). Film: I Am Michael, Mars Needs Moms, The Thing About My Folks, Curse of The Jade Scorpion. Debut album: Doll (OutMusic Award).

RICH PISARKIEWICZ (Lt. Brannigan) Muny 101 marks Rich’s 38th season on the Muny boards, appearing in over 80 productions, including last season’s An Evening with the Stars and Annie. He has appeared regionally with The Fox Theatres (Atlanta and St. Louis), Dallas Summer Musicals, Kansas City Starlight, and locally with Stages St. Louis, Shakespeare Festival St. Louis, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, The Black Rep, Westport Playhouse and Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. He has also enjoyed working with the Variety Theatre in several productions, most recently The Wizard of Oz. Upcoming: Man of La Mancha (Stages St. Louis). 2019 is his 41st year in professional theatre beginning with 1776 at Summerstage in 1979.

Link for more information: muny.org/guys-and-dolls.

About the show:

Guys and Dolls is based on a story and characters of Damon Runyon with music and lyrics by Frank Loesser and a book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows. 

Considered by many to be the perfect musical comedy, Guys and Dolls gambles with luck and love during a time when Broadway was rampant with wise guys, mission girls and Lindy’s cheesecake. This all-time Broadway classic features a high-rolling score, including “Luck Be a Lady,” “If I Were a Bell” and “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat.” With this Muny favorite, everyone’s a winner!

The seven shows in the 2019 Muny season are: Guys and Dolls (June 10 – 16), Kinky Boots (June 19 – 25), 1776 (June 27 – July 3), Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella (July 8 – 16), Footloose (July 18 – 24), Lerner and Loewe’s Paint Your Wagon (July 27 – August 2) and Roald Dahl’s Matilda (August 5 – 11). For more information, visit muny.org.  

Season and single tickets are currently on sale. Muny gift cards for the 101st season are available online and at The Muny Box Office. MetroTix is the only official online point-of-purchase vendor for The Muny. For more information, visit muny.org or call (314) 361-1900.

By Lynn Venhaus
Managing Editor
By wrapping up its Centennial Season with a sweet nostalgic slice of Americana, the Muny has tugged at our hearts and reminded us to treasure our traditions.
This “Meet Me in St. Louis” makeover is a richly textured tapestry significant to St. Louis – one that you can see and feel. With a freshly revised book and new orchestrations, the Muny has connected the ordinary Smith Family’s quaint story to emotionally resonate through the ties that bind us.
A tight-knit cast and tip-top crew wore their hearts on their sleeves opening night, offering a gift to the region that spends its summers in the nation’s oldest and largest outdoor theater. You could sense the love for our town onstage, backstage and in the audience.

The Smiths’ upper-middle class life at 5135 in Kensington Avenue was not different than countless others, but through their typical goings-on, they faced change, and that impending family transition from their comfortable routine to the uncertainty of a big metropolis is what drives their 1903-1904 story through seasons along the Mississippi River.
Sally Benson’s memoirs, “The Kensington Stories.” eventually became the beloved classic movie musical “Meet Me in St. Louis.” Even with its MGM-Hollywood pedigree, that unique turn-of-the-century site-specific history makes it ours alone – not Kansas City, Chicago or Indianapolis.
That civic pride resulted in the Muny presenting stage versions in 1960, 1965 and 1977 – before Broadway adapted it in 1989, and a variation has been staged four more times, including a dull one its last time in 2009.
The stage adaptation wasn’t special enough, and not even close in comparison to the movie. When the film opened in 1944, it became the studio’s biggest hit next to “Gone with the Wind” and nominated for four Oscars, including Best Song (“The Trolley Song”). Margaret O’Brien won a Juvenile Academy Award as Tootie. The film is now preserved in the National Film Registry (Library of Congress) and 10th on American Film Institute’s Greatest Movie Musicals in History list.
It’s closing line, “Right here in St. Louis,” became the Muny’s tagline for their 100th anniversary, and the show’s inclusion inevitable.
But this production has some surprises in store. To make this one memorable, Artistic Director and Executive Producer Mike Isaacson called on Gordon Greenberg to revamp the book by Hugh Wheeler. Greenberg is a veteran Muny director whose writing work includes the “Holiday Inn” Broadway adaptation.
He has inserted many local references to heighten the hometown feel. He had us right away when Grandpa talks about the St. Louis Cardinals beating the Chicago Cubs. Other mentions of neighborhoods and long-distance phone calls to Clayton were big crowd-pleasers.
No matter how corny you think the romantic entanglements are, the Smith kids’ excitement about seeing their hometown prepare to become the center of the universe is contagious.
The simple framework of children growing up is secondary to the time and place, as our forefathers are honored for their vision that included the biggest World’s Fair yet, and the first Summer Olympics in the U.S. And we continue to enjoy the fruits of those labors.

The world was watching when the Louisiana Purchase Exposition celebrated the 100th anniversary of the U.S. expansion under Thomas Jefferson. More than 60 countries and 43 states participated from April 30 to Dec. 1 in Forest Park and nearby locations. So many contributions of long-lasting impact came from those seven months in 1904, and the work preceding it.
That’s what director Marcia Milgrom Dodge brings out as the characters express love for the city and family, friends and neighbors during daily routines and holiday rituals.
Mr. and Mrs. Smith (real-life married couple Stephen R. Buntrock and Erin Dilly) have five children: Rose, Esther, Alonzo Jr. “Lon,” Agnes and Tootie (Liana Hunt, Emily Walton, Jonathan Burke, Elle Wesley and Elena Adams, all in Muny debuts). Anna Smith’s father, retired doctor Grandpa Prophater (local legend Ken Page) lives with them. Alonzo Sr. is a lawyer and they live comfortably enough to afford a housekeeper, Katie (Kathy Fitzgerald).
This cast injected individual pizzazz into a show that’s still boxed in by the period’s social mores. Let’s face it, the schmaltz factor is high, and the two oldest girls’ boy troubles are trivial.
There is the potential to view the characters as spoiled in the way the older daughters maneuver the guys and bratty Tootie causes mayhem while they all whine about moving to New York City, but if they didn’t gripe, we wouldn’t have any dramatic conflict, would we? And the performers are winsome.
Rose’s intended fellow, the earnest Warren Sheffield, is well-played by Michael Burrell, and Dan DeLuca, as the proverbial boy-next-door John Truitt, matches Emily Walton’s adventurous zest as Esther.
Jonathan Burke is an impressive Lon Jr., getting ready for Princeton and dating the worldly Lucille Ballard (St. Louis regular Madison Johnson, looking swell in a Gibson hairstyle). He is a marvel of movement in the dance number, “The Banjo,” innovatively staged by choreographer Josh Walden. Jeff Jordan is a good sport as a gangly uncoordinated dance partner, Pee Wee Drummond.
Music Director Charlie Alterman glides through old standards and the stand-out numbers written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane – “The Boy Next Door,” “The Trolley Song” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” which Walton beautifully delivers.
An earlier song list was trimmed to thankfully cut the bloat, and John McDaniel’s new orchestrations provide some zing. McDaniel, a St. Louis native, is a Grammy and Emmy-winning composer, conductor, pianist and producer. He was the band leader on Rosie O’Donnell’s talk show from 1996 to 2002 and has returned to conduct the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra five times and worked on “Pirates!” during the Muny’s 2012 season.
They included a dandy song Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote but cut from the movie, “Boys and Girls Like You and Me.”

Supporting player Ben Nordstrom’s spotlight moment was delightful, as he sang “Under the Anheuser Bush” as the Christmas Ball band singer.
(Fun fact: That is a popular beer garden song commissioned by the brewery in 1903, and an instrumental version was used in the 1944 movie).
The vibrant vintage look sharpened the focus, with outstanding work by scenic designer Michael Schweikardt and video designer Matthew Young, who highlighted the bygone era with beautiful vistas.
Costume designer Tristan Raines and wig designer Leah J. Loukas immersed the players in exquisite detail. The youth ensemble’s Halloween costumes provided merriment as they scampered through the crowd.
Lighting designer Rob Denton spectacularly illuminated the World’s Fair, which elicited audible appreciation. Sound designers John Shivers and David Patridge captured the old-timey feel.
In two extraordinary moments, “Meet Me in St. Louis” crystallized the past, present and future of our crown jewels — Forest Park and The Muny, all in the shadow of our treasured landmarks.
The “Skinker’s Swamp” picnic scene, where video projection showed The Palace of Fine Art (now the St. Louis Art Museum) under construction, along with the Ferris Wheel, in a muddy field. Awestruck Esther and John rode that famous trolley to his baseball practice first.
The grand finale was breathtaking – as the anticipation of the World’s Fair built, to reveal the Smith Family standing on a bridge overlooking the Grand Basin, with thousands of festive lights. It was a vivid tableau that continued in a fireworks-festooned curtain call.
Sometimes, we see magic happen under the stars in Forest Park, just as our ancestors did in the 20th century. Hope about the future has been a running theme in all seven shows this season, and “Meet Me in St. Louis” became the cherry on top.
After the fireworks light up the sky for the last time Aug. 12, we move onto the second century.
Look around the park now – majestic remnants mark our heritage. It’s a stunning sight, recalling happy golden days of yore, as is the Muny’s love letter to the community we cherish.
This unabashedly sentimental production conjured up many personal memories and feelings about what Forest Park, the Muny and St. Louis mean to me. I don’t think I was alone in this regard, judging the audience’s reaction
“Meet Me in St. Louis” is presented from Aug. 4 to Aug. 12 nightly at 8:15 p.m. at The Muny in Forest Park. For more information or for tickets, visit www.muny.org.
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Photos by Phillip Hamer