Coleman discusses upcoming 103rd season and the challenges ahead

By Lynn Venhaus
Kwofe Coleman, who started at The Muny as a seasonal employee when he was 16, will become the theatre’s next president and CEO, succeeding Denny Reagan, who is retiring after 52 years.

Coleman begins the new position on Jan. 1, 2022. He is currently The Muny’s managing director, overseeing the organization, financial and business affairs. He will assume the role with more than a decade of extensive theatre management experience.

“I am honored and humbled by the opportunity to lead The Muny and serve a community that I love,” Coleman said. “The unparalleled history, remarkable resources and aspirational spirit that have yielded a century of success for The Muny are our foundation as we begin our second century.”

The Muny Board of Directors announced the decision Friday.

One of the premier musical theaters in the U.S., the 103-year-old St. Louis venue traditionally welcomes more than 350,000 patrons over its nine-week season in the nation’s largest and oldest outdoor theatre in Forest Park.

The opportunity to mold The Muny’s future is not one Coleman, 38, takes lightly.

“With great excitement, I look toward the future of a cultural institution that will take intentional steps to broaden and evolve our identity and relationships through both our art and our investment in this community,” he said.

He has been preparing for this opportunity for many years.

“It’s been a 22-year job interview,” he said. “The opportunities I have had to work in different departments and gain the necessary experience in a community I care about has motivated me to want to figure out our next chapter. ‘What else can I do?’ We have an opportunity to define what a cultural institution is. It’s an amazing opportunity.”

Coleman said he is eager to get to work.

“I have a lot of respect for what the people do here. I’m honored for this moment, and I’m so excited to do the work,” he said.

Coleman’s promotion has been met with local and national praise, with both the board chairman and retiring president describing it as a “perfect” choice.

“Thanks to Denny’s leadership, and the diligent stewarding of the selection process by the executive committee and full board, the perfect candidate has been chosen,” Muny Board Chairman James S. Turley said.

Reagan, who has been with The Muny since 1968, has served as president and CEO since 1991. He announced plans to retire in December.

He and Coleman have worked extensively alongside each other. In recent years, they have stood together near stage left, greeting patrons before each of the seven shows on summer evenings.

And like Reagan, Coleman started working at the Muny as a summer job when he was in high school. He was an usher, handing out programs and helping with patrons’ needs.

“Kwofe is a remarkably gifted leader who understands the institution at its core, and more importantly, its commitment to the St. Louis community,” Reagan said. “He will ensure The Muny’s future remains bright while offering a new perspective on how to lead our beloved theatre into its next century. Without question, he is the perfect choice.”

“Undoubtedly, Kwofe will ensure The Muny continues its commitment to accessibility, regardless of physical or socioeconomic limitations, while expanding the vital role we fill in our community,” said Turley, who is also the Second Century Campaign chairman.

Dave Steward, founder and chairman of World Wide Technology, the nation’s largest black-owned company, said Coleman was a national and local leader of rare passion and commitment for serving young people.

“His record reflects an accomplished innovator who is making education and training increasingly accessible for historically underserved communities through schools and the arts,” Steward said.

“From the Gospel of Mark we learn, ‘Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant,’ and I am confident that Kwofe will lead with faith and humility. The Steward family, along with World Wide Technology, salute The Muny on choosing Kwofe as their next leader,” said Steward, a Muny board member.

World Wide Technology and the Steward Family Foundation became the first overall season sponsor in the history of The Muny in 2014. They were to be the 2020 Season Presenting Sponsor but instead continued as the online season presenting sponsor with a leadership gift.

Coleman is recognized both locally and nationally as a strong force in theatre operations and currently serves as the president-elect of the National Alliance for Musical Theatre.

 Betsy King, NAMT executive director, noticed the symmetry of Reagan, a former president, passing the torch to Coleman.

“I can say with both excitement and confidence that Kwofe will be a charismatic, insightful leader for The Muny. He will respect the past while also moving the organization into a strong, vibrant future. The Muny is in excellent hands!” she said.

Coleman was a 2018 Fellowship advisor for the DeVos Institute of Arts Management at the University of Maryland.

“The Muny has enjoyed a remarkably stable and strong leadership that has allowed the organization to move from strength to strength. Appointing Kwofe Coleman as the new president and CEO ensures leadership continuity. Kwofe brings his own insights and talents to the position and will lead The Muny to even greater heights in the years to come,” said Michael Kaiser, DeVos Institute of Arts Management chairman and Kennedy Center president emeritus.

Photo in St. Louis American. Kwofe Coleman and Dennis Reagan backstage at The Muny

103rd Season

Because of the public health crisis due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 102nd season was cancelled, and the line-up was transferred to the 2021 season. Even though season ticket sales were announced in March, the current health landscape, best practices and all available information must indicate that a season is possible.

A final decision will be made next month, Coleman said.

“We’re eager to come back, to gather and have the shows, but we have to be safe and be cleared to do so by the health department and the labor unions,” he said. “We’re looking at every angle. We might have to have a slightly reduced season, a socially distanced scenario. We’ll do something. How we will do it has to be figured out.”

Coleman said meetings continue to take place, consulting with the city and medical experts on the COVID-19 regional numbers and mitigation efforts. He said they have watched what the St. Louis Cardinals, St. Louis Blues and other local institutions have done in their altered re-openings.

“We’ve had a lot of great conversations. We’re only going to be together again by working together,” he said.

The upcoming season, announced in December, is to start later in July and then run through September, a shift from the usual June to August schedule, “should conditions allow.”

The seven shows are: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (July 5 – 11), Disney and Cameron Mackintosh’s Mary Poppins (July 14 – 22), Smokey Joe’s Cafe (July 25 – 31), The Sound of Music (August 3 – 9), Sweeney Todd (August 12 – 18), On Your Feet! (August 21 – 27) and Chicago (August 30 – September 5). Three – Sweeney Todd, Smokey Joe’s Café and On Your Feet – are Muny premieres.

In the meantime, the activities at #1 Muny Drive continue. The stage is being installed, construction is on track and preparations to return are underway.

The Muny is currently undergoing a multi-year major renovation project that was announced in October 2018.  Phase 3 started in September, focused on backstage support spaces. The Muny’s aging 11.5-acre campus needs upkeep and maintenance.

The new Emerson Artists’ Building will house dressing rooms, the wig shop, hair and makeup departments and wardrobe. Renovations are planned for the costume shop, production and general offices, rehearsal space, craft and scenic room, painter and carpenter areas, and the sewer and plumbing infrastructure. The capital campaign has raised $85 million so far.

The first two phases focused on rebuilding the state-of-the-art James S. McDonnell stage

Summer of 2020

The Muny announced in May that a modified season of 5, not 7, shows would take place beginning in July only if local health experts and officials deemed it safe, but on June 8, the decision was made not to move forward.

After that sad news, the Muny pivoted to an online season, a first in its 102-year history. They aired the live Muny Magic concerts at The Sheldon, never before made available to the public, and created a new series, “The Muny 2020 Summer Variety Hour Live!” This one-of-a-kind, free online endeavor was packed with performances by Muny artists across the country and dancers performing outside on the grounds.

Because of the online season, The Muny was able to employ several members of its typical summer staff, including trades people, performers, artists and musicians.

With viewers from 22 countries, the total estimated attendance for the free 10-show summer season was 189,582. This number represented a record-breaking first in The Muny’s live-streaming history, and is an aggregated estimate based on YouTube analytics.

“While this season was anything but ordinary, the support from our viewers has been nothing short of extraordinary,” Reagan said.

“My heart was transported back to so many magical summer nights past,” said Mike Isaacson, artistic director and executive producer of The Muny.

“I am so grateful to everyone in the Muny family who worked on and created these 10 streams,” Isaacson said. “It was a remarkable collaboration in so many ways, and in this really challenging time, these shows allowed us to create, to celebrate and to be together. We’re all very grateful.”

The Muny 2018. Photo by Lynn Venhaus

Coleman’s biography

Coleman joined The Muny full time in 2008 as a staff accountant, helping to manage the finances, accounting and payroll for its multimillion-dollar annual budget.

In the decade preceding it, he performed a variety of roles, including house manager.

In 2011, Coleman formed The Muny’s first digital communications department, reconstructing its internet presence and social media identity while also dramatically increasing the theatre’s internet sales stream, national presence and forming connections with nextgeneration audiences.

He was promoted to director of marketing and communications in 2014, where he managed branding and marketing efforts through its 2018 centennial season. During this time, Coleman was also key in the creation of both The Muny’s Second Century Strategic Plan and the $100 million Second Century Capital Campaign.

Following the 2018 season, Coleman was named The Muny’s managing director, responsible for managing the business functions while working with Isaacson, to embrace and articulate the artistic and institutional vision.

In St. Louis, he is an active contributor, serving on the St. Louis University High School Board of Trustees, Cor Jesu Academy Advisory Council, Common Circles Advisory Council and as a proud founding board member of Atlas School.

Coleman is an alumnus of St. Louis University High School, Class of 2001, and earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Emory University in Atlanta.

He is a first-generation American. His parents migrated here from the Republic of Ghana in the mid-1970s and settled in Bellefontaine Neighbors. He has two sisters, both doctors, who attended Harvard and Duke universities, and locally, Cor Jesu Academy. He said his parents prized education and his father worked side jobs to send his children to private schools.

Coleman said his parents appreciated the arts and culture, and that was handed down to their three children, to make sure they were well-rounded.

“Art was natural to me and I appreciated it,” Coleman said.

He also serves on the board of directors for the Saint Louis Club, as well as other various social service organizations. During the 2020 holiday season, Coleman served as executive producer for “A New Holiday,” a short film musical set in St. Louis created by LIFE Creative Group.

He is a 2015 recipient of the St. Louis American’s Salute to Young Leaders Award and was named to the 2020 St. Louis Business Journal 40 under 40.

For more information about The Muny, visit www.muny.org.

Season tickets can be purchased online at muny.org or by phone by calling (314) 361-1900. Currently, the box office in Forest Park is closed to the public.

The Muny season tickets for the 2021 summer season went on sale on Monday, March 22. Tickets can be purchased online at muny.org or by phone by calling (314) 361-1900. Currently, the box office in Forest Park is closed to the public.

The 2021 season includes three Muny premieres, family favorites and the return of beloved classics. The seven shows are: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (July 5 – 11), Disney and Cameron Mackintosh’s Mary Poppins (July 14 – 22), Smokey Joe’s Cafe (July 25 – 31), The Sound of Music (August 3 – 9), Sweeney Todd (August 12 – 18), On Your Feet! (August 21 – 27) and Chicago (August 30 – September 5).

A final decision regarding the status of the 2021 season will be made in late spring based on the current health landscape, best practices and all available information.

SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS
A DANCE-FILLED CLASSIC
July 5 – 11
Based on the Academy Award-winning 1954 film, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is Americana at its finest. With an age-old tale of wooing and winning, the battle of the sexes and some barn-raising dancing, this western rollick features whistle-worthy favorites, including “Bless Your Beautiful Hide” and “Goin’ Courtin’.” With two of the most eminent dance scenes in musical theatre history and seven times the fun, saddle up for an unforgettable joyride through the Oregon frontier.

The Muny’s Production of Disney and Cameron Mackintosh’s MARY POPPINS
A Musical based on the stories of P.L. Travers and the Walt Disney Film
PRACTICALLY PERFECT FOR THE MUNY!
Proudly Sponsored by Edward Jones
July 14 – 22
Based on one of the most popular films in history, Disney and Cameron Mackintosh’s Mary Poppins is practically perfect in every way. Transporting audiences by umbrella to London at the turn of the last century, this Tony Award-winning stage adaptation features a magical carpet bag full of classics, including “Chim Chim Cher-ee,” “Step in Time,” “A Spoonful of Sugar” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” With winds in the east and a mist coming in, somethin’ is brewin’ and about to begin!

SMOKEY JOE’S CAFE
The Songs of Leiber and Stoller
MUNY PREMIERE!
Proudly Sponsored by Ameren
July 25 – 31
Ben E. King, The Coasters, Elvis Presley, Peggy Lee and The Drifters – what do they have in common? Besides being some of the most popular artists of the 50s and 60s, their hits, and over 35 others, are the bread and butter of Smokey Joe’s Cafe. Set in St. Louis’ historic Gaslight Square, Broadway’s longest-running musical revue includes Grammy Award-winning favorites such as “Yakety Yak,” “Jailhouse Rock,” “On Broadway” and “Love Potion No. 9.” With this generation-defining Muny premiere, audiences will be dancing in the aisles.

THE SOUND OF MUSIC
FIRST MUNY PRODUCTION SINCE 2010!
Proudly Sponsored by Emerson
August 3 – 9
Considered by many to be the world’s most beloved musical, The Sound of Music reminds us that with high-spirited hope, heartfelt compassion and unwavering determination, life’s mountains can always be climbed. With its Tony, Grammy and Academy Award-winning score, including “Do-Re-Mi,” “My Favorite Things,” “Edelweiss” and the iconic title track “The Sound of Music,” the hills of Forest Park come alive once more!

SWEENEY TODD
The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
A Musical Thriller
LONG-AWAITED MUNY PREMIERE!
Proudly Sponsored by Missouri Lottery
August 12 – 18
The Broadway legend and American musical masterpiece makes its Muny debut. Set in 19th century London, Sweeney Todd has captivated audiences around the world with its dark wit, murderous melodies and haunting tale of love, revenge and mayhem. Considered to be one of composer Stephen Sondheim’s greatest showpieces, this eight-time Tony Award-winning thriller features hair-raising favorites, including “The Worst Pies in London,” “A Little Priest” and “Johanna.” With this Muny premiere, audiences are guaranteed an unforgettable evening in the barber chair.

ON YOUR FEET!
The Story of Emilio & Gloria Estefan
REGIONAL AND MUNY PREMIERE!
Proudly Sponsored by BMO Harris Bank
August 21 – 27
Based on the inspiring true story of the queen of Latin pop, Gloria Estefan and her husband, Emilio, On Your Feet! is a universal sensation that shows what can happen when two people believe in their talent, music and one another. Their moving rags-to-riches story features some of the most chart-topping songs of the past quarter-century, including “Rhythm is Gonna Get You,” “1-2-3,” “Coming Out of the Dark” and the title hit, “Get On Your Feet.” With this Muny premiere, audiences will leave ready to “Conga!”

CHICAGO
FIRST MUNY PRODUCTION SINCE 2012!
Proudly Sponsored by U.S. Bank
August 30 – September 5
Start the car and head to a “whoopee spot” where crime and corruption are hot! Kander and Ebb’s internationally-acclaimed musical about fame, fortune and justice features a headline-worthy story of how two icon-victs become Jazz Age celebrities. Set during the Prohibition era, this six-time Tony Award-winner, the longest-running American musical in Broadway history, includes showstopping standards such as “Cell Block Tango,” “Mister Cellophane” and the notorious “All That Jazz.”

To view a campus construction update, please click here.

Single tickets will be available beginning June 1. Muny gift cards for the 103rd season are now available online. For more information, visit muny.org or call (314) 361-1900.

For updates and information regarding The Muny’s Second Century Capital Campaign, please click here.

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The Muny’s mission is to enrich lives by producing exceptional musical theatre, accessible to all, while continuing its remarkable tradition in Forest Park. As the nation’s largest outdoor musical theatre, we produce seven world-class musicals each year and welcome over 350,000 theatregoers over our nine-week season. Celebrating 103 seasons in St. Louis, The Muny remains one of the premier institutions in musical theatre.

For more information about The Muny, visit muny.org
After a record-breaking online summer season, The Muny announced today Muny Holiday Magic. A special four-day holiday video series, Muny Holiday Magic will feature performances from Muny family across the country, including The Muny Kids and Teens. Each free pre-recorded performance will air daily at 12:00 p.m. CST Dec. 21 – 25 via The Muny’s social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.

The Muny Holiday Magic schedule is:

Dec. 21 – Members of The Muny Kids and Teens performing “Underneath the Tree.”
Dec. 22 – Members of The Muny Kids and Teens performing “The Chanukah Song (We Are Lights).”
Dec. 23 – A medley of “The 12 Days of Quarantine” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” featuring Broadway and The Muny’s Jason Gotay, Mamie Parris, Nasia Thomas, St. Louis favorites and more than 30 Muny family from coast to coast.

“The 12 Days of Quarantine” features original lyrics written by Gordon Greenberg and Steve Rosen and stars Muny 2020 Summer Variety Hour Live! favorites Maya Bowles, Stephen Buntrock and Erin Dilly with their family, Beth Crandall, Chloe O. Davis, Colby Dezelick, Emma Gassett, Jason Gotay, Matt Kunkel, James T. Lane, Raymond J. Lee, Mamie Parris, Tony Scandora, Trevor Michael Schmidt, Jack Sippel, Blakely Slaybaugh, Gabi Stapula and Nasia Thomas, with music direction by Michael Horsley, orchestrations and arrangements by Andrew Graham, video editing by Matthew Young and many more surprises.

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” The Muny’s take on the Meet Me In St. Louis classic, stars St. Louis favorites Leah Berry, Patrick Blindauer, Duane Martin Foster, Zoe Vonder Haar, Julie Hanson, Kennedy Holmes, Kamal Lado, Ben Nordstrom, Rich Pisarkiewicz and April Strelinger, with music direction and arrangements by Michael Horsley, video editing by Matthew Young, sound design by Bill Buzan and video captured by Switch.

Dec. 24 – Broadway, West End and Muny star Ken Page reading the timeless holiday classic The Night Before Christmas. “The voice” of not only The Muny, but also Oogie Boogie in The Nightmare Before Christmas, Ken has been a Muny staple in over 40 productions.

On Dec. 25, a compilation of the four shows will air as a complete package. Each holiday video will be available until midnight Dec. 31, 2020.
The Muny Box Office. Photo by Julia Merkle

To stay connected virtually and to receive the latest updates, please follow The Muny on their social media channels, including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
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The Muny’s mission is to enrich lives by producing exceptional musical theatre, accessible to all, while continuing its remarkable tradition in Forest Park. As the nation’s largest outdoor musical theatre, we produce seven world-class musicals each year and welcome over 350,000 theatregoers over our nine-week season. Celebrating 102 seasons in St. Louis, The Muny remains one of the premier institutions in musical theatre.

For more information about The Muny, visit muny.org
The Muny announced today dates for the highly-anticipated 2021 season. After postponing the 2020 lineup due to COVID-19, a first in the theatre’s 102-year history, The Muny plans to present the originally-announced seven shows in the upcoming 103rd season, should conditions allow.

With new dates and a new show order, the 2021 season includes Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (July 5 – 11), Disney and Cameron Mackintosh’s Mary Poppins (July 14 – 22), Smokey Joe’s Cafe (July 25 – 31), The Sound of Music (August 3 – 9), Sweeney Todd (August 12 – 18), On Your Feet! (August 21 – 27) and Chicago (August 30 – September 5).
“The thought of having our Muny family and audience together again next summer makes my heart soar,” said Muny Artistic Director and Executive Producer Mike Isaacson. “The passion, energy and talent that so many put into a Muny show will be through the non-existent roof next summer. Let’s do it.”
Over the next several months, The Muny, in conjunction with city and health officials, will continue to evaluate every aspect of its operation in relation to its audience, staff, cast, crew and community. With ongoing consideration for available information and guidance regarding the anticipated global recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021, Muny staff are preparing for a delayed start of the 103rd season in July.
“After an incredible online season in 2020, we are excited to hopefully welcome St. Louis back to summer nights in Forest Park in 2021,” said Muny President and CEO Denny Reagan. “Our teams have been working diligently on presenting a season that is not only filled with ‘only at The Muny moments,’ but also safe. Safety, the comfort of our audience and the climate of the public health crisis will be the ultimate deciding factors.”
Current season ticket holders will be contacted personally in January with more information regarding their options and next steps.

New subscriptions will go on sale March 22, 2021 and single tickets will be available June 1, 2021.

MetroTix is the official ticket outlet of The Muny. Tickets are also securely available at muny.org.

To access season 103 assets, please click here.

Muny gift cards for the 103rd season are now available online at muny.org/store.

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


The Muny’s mission is to enrich lives by producing exceptional musical theatre, accessible to all, while continuing its remarkable tradition in Forest Park. As the nation’s largest outdoor musical theatre, we produce seven world-class musicals each year and welcome over 350,000 theatregoers over our nine-week season. Celebrating 102 seasons in St. Louis, The Muny remains one of the premier institutions in musical theatre.

For more information about The Muny, visit muny.org

By Lynn Venhaus
Sometimes, we see magic happen under the stars in Forest Park. This summer, we saw a different kind of Muny Magic – but enchanted evenings nonetheless.

It took a global pandemic for the Muny to achieve its greatest magic trick ever – they transformed our isolation into a community through a live variety special.

And they did it with such hard work and passion. Using modern technology, incredibly creative professionals and tip-top talent from coast to coast, it was a huge undertaking, which was obvious to anyone who tuned in for even a fraction of an episode.

For the fifth Summer Variety Hour Live! on Monday, Aug. 17, the Muny supersized the presentation and it was a splashy grand finale, tugging on our heartstrings in a big but intimate way. So much genuine emotion in new works, in memories and archival footage that reminded us how special our outdoor theatre is, the largest and oldest one in the country.

Seeing Muny mainstay Beth Leavel perform her showstopper “Rose’s Turn” from “Gypsy” (2018) with the view from the wings! My heart was bursting. Tari Kelly leading the ebullient “Forget About the Boy” in “Thoroughly Modern Millie” (2012) and one of the all-time great musical theater numbers, ‘Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat” from last year’s “Guys and Dolls,” with the surprise appearance by Kennedy Holmes to hit those high notes. I was grinning ear to ear. The Mission: Feel-Good was on!

Zoe Vonder Haar, Orville Mendoza and Kennedy Holmes in “Guys and Dolls” – Photo by Phillip Hamer

For five episodes, the Muny reinvigorated its treasure trove of tradition, 102 years strong, to provide virtual entertainment that filled the void of a cancelled season. The collaborative spirit on display was inspiring.

Let’s face it, the summer has been dismal, especially with rising coronavirus cases in our bi-state region. More things shut down and were postponed in a never-ending stream of disappointments in 2020. But as a gift to “the Muny family,” the management and creative teams conceived a way to connect us. We all felt it, whether tuning in on Monday or catching the rerun on Thursday from July 20 to Aug. 17 as the evening twilight faded.

For a brief shining moment, it seemed like old times. The 8:15 p.m. start was a constant to look forward to in an uncertain year during an unprecedented public health crisis. With Executive Producer and Artistic Director Mike Isaacson’s bold and unique concept, and his ability to attract the talent he did, each episode was a captivating mix of tempo and tone, under the direction of multi-talented Michael Baxter.

Colby Dezelick

What an emotional palette we experienced, touching on why we love the Muny, from veteran performer Colby Dezelick’s touching original song, “I Will Be Your Home” — with a behind-the-scenes video love letter dedicated to his Muny family, to sweet Jenny Powers describing her feelings about flying above the audience as Mary Poppins in 2013, and how the staff took such good care of her. Straight to the heart.

And while seeing up-and-coming talent do what they do best is always enjoyable, feeling their sheer joy in performing is blissful. Watching St. Louis native and Broadway performer Richard Riaz Yoder use his exceptional talents to dance “Broadway Melody” using the Muny as his canvas – tap-dancing for a time in sneakers! – was breathtaking.

So was jubilant Jack Sippel’s choreographed dance number, the cheery “You Can’t Stop the Beat!” from “Hairspray,” which was performed by 19 Muny alums and sung by Nasia Thomas, Muny vet and Broadway performer in “Beautiful,” “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” and soon, the revival of “Caroline, or Change.”

In the 2017 production of “A Chorus Line,” director-choreographer Denis Jones used young versions of the dancers in certain scenes, to emphasize their dreams and drive. On Monday, they showed the wistful “At the Ballet” number, which was performed by Holly Ann Butler as Sheila, Bronwyn Tarboton as Maggie and Caley Crawford as Bebe, with little ballerinas in view.

As lump-in-the-throat as that song is, nothing can match the show’s curtain call for its spectacular finish, and they recreated it for The Muny Centennial Gala, complete with fireworks. Such a thrilling moment to revisit.

The energy, enthusiasm and talent of the Muny Teens and Kids each episode was another heart-tugger. Because six teens were graduating, they had a special senior sendoff: Michael Harp, Cate Phillips, Michael Lee Jr., Fiona Scott, Jack Deters and Caitlin Chau sang “Our Time” from Stephen Sondheim’s “Merrily We Roll Along.” I have seen these kids grow up. Misty eyes.

“Worlds to change, and worlds to win Our turn, coming through.”

The Muny Kids’ adorable and confident youngsters mashed up “Come Alive” from the film “The Greatest Showman,” with songs by Oscar and Tony winners Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, with “A Little More Homework” from Jason Robert Brown’s “13.”

For comic relief, there was the fun “Munywood Squares” game show, good sports all, and jolly John Tartaglia reprising his Murray the Muny Raccoon schtick, making Isaacson laugh.

Mike Isaacson

Isaacson, who has been the visionary executive producer and artistic director since the 2012 season, named to the post in 2010, cares deeply about the Muny’s place in historic context and local lore, and with his Broadway experience, he’s able to give us quality casts, teams and a really dedicated staff.

Clearly wearing his heart on his sleeve as this summer’s host, he gave us something that we could enjoy on many levels and for many reasons. Isaacson has multiple Tony Awards and 24 Broadway shows and national tours to his credit. He makes things happen in a way that elevates the Muny in stature, boosting our civic pride, but also gains respect in the larger theatrical world. His reverence for the art form is obvious, and he has shown us, time and again, the possibilities of what the Muny can accomplish.

That connection that he spoke of, all the people who came together without hesitation, all the selfless devotion, a renewed sense of purpose – it felt very real and elicited a teary farewell.

I think, like “Field of Dreams,” Forest Park and the Muny are mystical places. After all, musical theatre is a constant in our lives, like baseball. We want to believe that in a time of everything turned upside down, of norms being shattered, that there exists a place we feel safe, happy, loved. That sharing theater and music brings us together like no other art form.

So, the Muny Variety Hour gave us the opportunity to be in the company of performers who love the Muny like it is a family, a home. That theme was repeated over and over. And that’s what we are craving in these anxious times.

And in Colby’s song: “When it’s dark, I’ll be the light.”

Beth Malone

Another almost spiritual song was the centuries-old tune and Muny season-ender tradition “Auld Lang Syne,” sung by Beth Malone, who accompanied herself on acoustic guitar. Beautiful and bittersweet.

The ties that bind us, recalling happy golden days of yore. “Meet Me in St. Louis” appeared again in the line-up – of course. Yes, it’s schmaltzy, but its inclusion of the 1904 World’s Fair, which has impacted our lives and region ever since those seven months, and the work preceding it, make it a nostalgic chestnut.

Married couple and Muny performers Erin Dilly and Stephen R. Buntrock sang a lovely duet, “You and I,” from their home. They appeared as Mr. and Mrs. Smith in the 2018 production, the Centennial season finale.

Maggie Kuntz, a Muny vet and two-time winner of the Best Actress Award from the St. Louis High School Musical Theatre Awards, sang the iconic “The Trolley Song” live from under the Culver Pavilion with polish and panache.

Dan De Luca and Emily Walton in “Meet Me in St. Louis” Photo by Phillip Hamer

And then in the sentimental sweet spot, they played “The Skinker’s Swamp” picnic scene featuring Emily Walton as Esther and Dan DeLuca as John Truitt. The video projection was The Palace of Fine Arts, now the St. Louis Art Museum, under construction in a muddy field.

How many times have we been in the shadow of our treasured landmarks?

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, the Muny and Forest Park remain crown jewels that we cherish.

And the Summer Variety Hour Live! reinforced our past, present and future. I’ll meet you at the Muny next summer. Looking forward to greeting the Muny family once more. “Through the years, we’ll always be together, if the fates allow.”

By Lynn Venhaus
Among the many thousands of people tuning in to the Muny’s Summer Variety Hour Live! on Monday nights, a health care professional told Mike Isaacson, the executive producer and artistic director who conceived this musical mash-up, that the show has saved her sanity and her summer. I second that.

If this summer were a mix-tape, mine would include all the magical Muny-ized showtunes, “Hamilton” (just because) and the TwinstheNewTrend (just watch). This bittersweet blend has become Operation: Summer Salvation. We didn’t know how desperately we needed this balm, like a cool breeze on an unbearably muggy day (or a Lemon Freeze under a Muny fan).

Kennedy Holmes

Why else would tears be streaming down my face as the sublime Kennedy Holmes beautifully sang “Children Will Listen” live under the Culver Pavilion, with Tali Allen on piano on Aug. 10, the fourth episode? Holmes, who broke out as Little Inez in 2015’s “Hairspray,” went on to become a phenom on “The Voice,” with a fourth-place finish. (She was robbed!). She remains a loyal Muny Teen and, as the soloist Monday, displayed a stunning maturity.

Under Isaacson – who loves Stephen Sondheim as much as I do – we were able to witness an extraordinary “Into the Woods” in 2015, and as I teared up at least five times during the Muny production back then, watching Tony winner Heather Headley sing “Children Will Listen” was the highlight among many. Leave it to a young woman, Kennedy, to remind us:

Children will look to you
For which way to turn
To learn what to be
Careful before you say
“Listen to me”

From a musical stressing the reality behind the make-believe, Monday’s rendition took on a greater poignancy. And being able to see Kennedy’s growth and blossoming as a future major star was another unforgettable “Muny moment.”

In a crazy world of scary happenings and headlines, we have been comforted by the talent of this joyful, faithful and hopeful ‘family’ of entertainers and the time-honored tradition of the Municipal Opera, now 102 years old, for four shows so far. Every superbly mixed show has elicited a rollercoaster of emotions as we take our seat, not in the 11,000 open-air theater, on a warm summer night, but instead before our televisions and computer screens, tissues at the ready.

The anticipation is matched by the exquisite renditions, whether live or on tape, but the added bonus has been seeing the work of such creative spirits – putting together all those filmed clips and using Zoom technology. And then you have the sunny optimism of those Muny Kids and Teens, and well, leaky eyes.

It feels real, even if it is make-believe. Somehow, through cyberspace, we feel connected. And we need it, apparently, for more than 140,000 people tuned in to the first three.

“Through the years, we’ll always be together, if the fates allow” — little did we know how much the lyrics of “Meet Me in St. Louis” would mean during a pandemic, “right here.” So, of course, this cast from the Centennial presentation in 2018 would be this week’s heartwarming sing-a-long reunion.

The sentimentality showed up in waves during the penultimate super-duper deluxe show, despite a heavy thunderstorm in the region that caused uprooted trees, power outages and flash flooding. Yet, here was Mike, underneath the stage, guiding us through another enchanted evening. We weren’t huddled together with our umbrellas, but nonetheless united.

And the urgency of underlying theme “Gotta Dance!” saved the day with some fresh, fantastic choreography.

The unbridled happiness of tap dancers, near and far, took us from stages to home spaces in “Tap Your Troubles Away.” Conceived and choreographed by Muny Resident and Teen Choreographer Katie Johannigman, this was a jolt of jubilation that had me grinning ear to ear, featuring alums from the past decade. And then Jack Sippel’s moving contemporary dance piece, “Speechless” featuring Muny Teens. Breath-taking! A St. Louis native, Broadway performer and Muny alum, Sippel is currently working on the Netflix version of “The Prom,” as he was the dance captain of the Broadway show.

“West Side Story” is my all-time favorite musical, and the Jerome Robbins choreography is swoon-worthy, so to be treated to the goosebumps-inducing “Dance at the Gym” from “Jerome Robbins’ Broadway” in 2018 was a treat. The Muny’s 2013 production of “West Side Story” will always stand as one of the best ever, and the West Side Story suite from the Robbins’ greatest-hits compilation reminded me why the show is timeless 63 years later.

The archival footage included “Jersey Boys,” the sensational national premiere outside Broadway/national tours in 2018, and the splendid re-imagining of “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” with life force Beth Malone from 2017. Plus, one of the best “Annie” shows I’ve ever seen – “NYC”! — in 2018 helmed by the one-of-a-kind John Tartaglia.

John Tartaglia

It would not be a Muny summer without the exceptional Tartaglia, and he delivered the night’s best laugh-out-loud surprise – appearing as Murray the Muny Raccoon,” the pesky scene-stealer who waddled on stage during ‘The Addams Family” and is missing his scraps and his adoring fans. The versatile performer has memorably played The Cat in the Hat in “Seussical,” the Genie in “Aladdin” and won the St. Louis Theater Circle Award for Supporting Actor in a Musical for playing Hysterium in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” in 2017, in addition to his directing work. He started as a puppeteer on “Sesame Street,” and went on to “Avenue Q” and playing Pinocchio in “Shrek.”

For the weekly Couple Duo, we had not one but two. Real-life couple Jason Gotay (Jack! Prince Eric! Prince Charming (well, Topher) in Cinderella!) and Muny regular Michael Hartung charmingly performed “Song on the Sand” from “La Cage aux Folles.”

Then the adorable power couple Jenny Powers and Matt Cavenaugh – who wowed us at the Sheldon a few years ago – brought baby daughter Rose with them to reprise “New Words,” a song by composer Maury Yeston. It’s not from a show, but he has composed “Titanic,” “Nine,” “Grand Hotel” among others. Waterworks.

This multi-tissue moment brought the house down, so to speak. All across the nation, we collectively burst into tears while they sang about “the moon, stars and love.”

Wait there was more! “Do-Re-Mi,” a special song-and-dance performance by those effusive Muny Kids and Teens. And those indomitable teens sang a bouncy rendition from “It Roars” from “Mean Girls.”

The Munywood Squares was another fun segment, and behind the scenes is always illuminating. We heard about the Clydesdales Ace and Deuce, and seeing the excitement of that experience from the creative anecdotes was a nice perk.

One more chance to see this show Thursday at 8:15 p.m. on Muny TV. For more information: muny.org/varietyhour/

And then Monday will be the swan song. Supersized (and with the traditional “Auld Lang Syne” too). Aug. 17, 8:15 p.m.

I’m so glad we’ve had this time together, just to have a laugh or sing a song…

Excuse me while I go grab another tissue.

By Lynn Venhaus
The sights and sounds of nights gone by are such a welcome sentimental journey on the exciting new online Muny Mondays.

But the variety show is not all a “Remember When” montage, and that is what sets it apart. With a fresh batch of pixie dust, the Muny’s second episode of its smash hit Summer Variety Hour Live more than met expectations after such a sensational series launch July 20.

Rob McClure and Maggie Lakis

If you were curious as to how they could top the inaugural show, now that we know the formula, one look at the lineup beforehand answered that quickly. Tony nominee Taylor Louderman singing live under the Culver Pavilion! Tony nominee and fan favorite Rob McClure, versatile veteran of six Muny shows, singing “Suddenly Seymour” with his wife Maggie Lakis, who has been in two Muny musicals, from their home in Philadelphia. McClure’s Muny debut was “Little Shop of Horrors” in 2011, so that was fitting. The cast of 2017’s spectacular “The Little Mermaid,” lead by Commodore Primous III as Sebastian, reuniting to sing a buoyant “Under the Sea.” I mean, the deck was stacked.

The best way to describe the ebb and flow of the carefully curated selection of acts is to compare it to a multi-course gourmet dinner especially crafted to include favorite dishes, comfort food, bold choices and unique taste treats, every bite bursting with flavor.

When the “Wow” factors were unveiled — those unforgettable Muny moments that you will always recall with awe, so grateful to have experienced it in person – they blew me away. It isn’t hard to pick five, ten or 20 out of your head if you are a regular. (We probably share some of the same ones – we’ll have to compare notes).

And this supersonic flash came from two performers I saw in ensembles but did not know their names: Nkeki Obi-Melekwe and Chloe O. Davis. I will never forget them now.

Nkeki Obi-Melekwe

Nkeki soared singing “If You Knew My Story” from “Bright Star” during her time, a selection to reinforce color-blind casting. Nkeki, a Michigan graduate, appeared in the Muny’s 2017 “All Shook Up” and went on to play Tina Turner in “Tina the Musical” in London’s West End in April 2019, then move to Broadway in October.

If you are unfamiliar with “Bright Star,” the musical by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell, it came out the same year “Hamilton” did and lost the Tony Award for Best Musical to the landmark show in 2016.

Chloe O. Davis, a dancer who grew up in St. Louis and was in “All Shook Up” and “The Wiz” in recent years, was featured in “My Tribute to Black Broadway and Black Choreography: I Thrive Now Because You Dared Then,” a dance she conceived and choreographed.

As she used Forest Park as her stage, she gave us a history lesson that stirred “all the feels.” She created the styles of famous black choreographers, using audio and visual clips in addition to her dance moves – East St. Louis’ international icon Katherine Dunham, George Faison, Debbie Allen, Hope Clarke, Gregory Hines, Donald Byrd, Bill T. Jones and Camille A. Brown among them.

Chloe O Davis

Moving. Powerful. Elegant. Truly a shining moment.

A delightful song-and-dance interlude was courtesy of three dynamos Maya Bowles, Trevor Michael Schmidt and Gabi Stapula, whose high-spirited “There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This” from “Sweet Charity” captured our anxiety and their eagerness to get back to the business of entertaining. These chorus gypsies reminded us how ensemble cohesiveness is so important to any big splashy musical.

Gabi also works with the Muny Teens, and their fun-loving mashup of “Bring On the Monsters” from “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical” and “Drive It Like You Stole It” from “Sing Street” again showcased how talented some local students are – and their sunny dispositions. I’m a big fan of the 2016 movie “Sing Street,” which is writer-director John Carney’s third film about the transforming power of music (“Once” and “Begin Again”), and its stage adaptation was set to open on Broadway in April after rave reviews off-Broadway.

The power ‘hour’ also featured behind-the-scenes stories about what’s happening at The Muny, including being able to pull off the stunning fireworks at the Centennial Gala, and the amusing game show throwback Munywood Squares. With interesting fun facts, hosted by Gordon Greenberg and featuring nine Muny performers in the Zoom grid,  including E. Faye Butler, J. Harrison Ghee, Ann Harada, Raymond J. Lee, Vicki Lewis, Steve Rosen, Jeffrey Schecter, John Scherer and Christopher Sieber. This week’s good sport contestants were photographer Phillip Hamer and Muny company manager Sue Greenberg. Fun remembering the raccoon who waddled on to the stage in “The Addams Family” in 2014!

Taylor Louderman

On an intermittent rainy night, star Taylor Louderman was accompanied by four socially distanced musicians, to sing live the power ballad “Astonishing” from “Little Women.” Always nice to include a female empowerment song, this one from Louisa May Alcott’s timeless and timely heroine, Jo March. From Bourbon, Mo., 60 miles southwest of St. Louis, Taylor went from Muny Teen to Tony nominee as Regina George in “Mean Girls.” She made her Broadway debut in 2012’s “Bring It On!,” has been in seven Muny shows and won the St. Louis Theater Circle Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Musical for last summer’s “Kinky Boots.” (And this year, finished her bachelor’s degree that she had started at Michigan in 2009 and was married five weeks ago to Brooks Toth).

The archival footage of past summer shows is a fond trip down memory lane, starting with Muny titans Beth Leavel and Ben Davis in 2015’s “Oklahoma!” Leavel, Tony winner for “The Drowsy Chaperone” and nominee for ‘The Prom,” is a frequent St. Louis Theater Circle Award nominee, winning for her Mamma Rose in 2018 “Gypsy.” Davis, seen last year as Sky Masterson in “Guys and Dolls,” has been nominated multiple times, and once joked during an interview that he is the ‘Susan Lucci’ of the Circle Awards.

Davis was in the now legendary production of “Spamalot” in 2013 as Sir Galahad. Host Mike Isaacson introduced “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” which holds the distinction of being the most popular song at funerals, pointing out how weather affected the show. I remember that on opening night June 17, a steady rain was falling after torrential downpours for days preceding it. So, there was little opportunity to rehearse outdoors. The audience for the show opener of the 95th season was so eager to see this Muny premiere that we came in droves with our umbrellas — and were mightily rewarded.

It’s a night I’ll never forget. During the curtain call, actor John O’Hurley, playing King Arthur, stopped the show to introduce Monty Python founder and show creator Eric Idle! Whoops, cheers and thunderous applause! Everyone on their feet. I turned to my companion and said: “We are in the presence of a Python!” Oh, be still my heart. It was pure bliss – he led us in “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” after mentioning this was the largest audience to ever see the musical and he wanted to see if we could get in the Guinness Book of World Records for our sing-a-long.

Oh, what a night! I had the good fortune to interview John O’Hurley later that fall when he was touring as Billy Flynn in “Chicago,” and we had a pleasant conversation about that enchanted evening.

Another splendid memory was shared with the incredible “We’re in the Money” from the extraordinary 2016 production of “42nd Street,” choreographed by Denis Jones, St. Louis Theater Circle Award winner. That curtain call – go see it on YouTube – as the cast cascaded down a staircase will go down as my favorite (next to “A Chorus Line”) in Muny history.

All these elements are what make summer nights special at the Muny, and spotlighting the world-class talent – from the musical theater majors from the best schools in the country to the stars with Broadway credentials — who come together in Forest Park – is one I like to emphasize. Years ago, seasons were headlined by ‘names’ – mostly from TV – and while recognizable, I much prefer having the best talent possible give us their all on that stage. Drama geek that I am, I read all the bios and notice who returns to the Muny, who creates magic on the stage, or is given the part of a lifetime.

And in that spirit, the Summer Variety Hour Live emphasizes how many parts make each show happen.

And it is a warm, familiar embrace at a time we all need a hug.

On July 20, The Muny 2020 Summer Variety Hour Live! drew more than 30,000 viewers from across the U.S. and around the world. This total sets a new, record-breaking first in The Muny’s live-streaming history.

On July 27, we were connected by the calypso beat of newly crowned EGOT winner Alan Menken, the banjo picking of brilliant Steve Martin, the Britpop synthesizer of ‘80s New Wave, the zaniness of silly comic geniuses, homages to Busby Berkeley and Broadway chestnuts, the triumph of a ‘local’ small-town girl with a dream, sweetness, sincerity, showmances and people who think sitting under those stars in St. Louis is like coming home.

These shows (5 total, 3 left) are exclusive, one-time-only streams and will not be available after the Thursday night airing. The July 30 re-airing will include audio description and captions. The link is: youtube.com/themunytv

The Muny’s online 2020 season is sponsored by World Wide Technology. Episode 1 was made possible by US Bank and Episode 2 by Edward Jones. They announce the next lineup every Wednesday.

By Lynn Venhaus
With magic to do and the ‘Lou turning its lonely eyes to them, the Muny blazed another trail Monday with its introduction of “The Muny Summer Variety Hour Live!”

The first episode was a nifty package of show tunes, personalities, bouncy sing-a-longs, behind the scenes with dedicated staff and several special live moments, all shared on social media in real time by an audience spanning coast to coast. (Latest figures: 25,000 tuned in!).

Oh, what a treat to be reminded of what makes the Municipal Opera so special for 102 years – and not only because it is the oldest and largest outdoor theater in the country, but because it is “our Muny,” right here in St. Louis. And summer isn’t really summer until the Muny opens.

Two of our hometown’s greatest showmen – Lara Teeter and Ken Page – entertained us in royal fashion, with Tony nominee Lara recreating a vintage musical dance he called “Take Me Away!” as his fleet feet took him throughout the great expanse of the Muny grounds one sunny day. He was joined by his son Charlie in the segment.

And live, from the Culver Pavilion, with four musicians socially distanced, the regal Ken Page sang “Memory,” the signature song from “Cats,” in a showstopper that was one for the ages. Night had fallen, and this stage legend gave an emotional powerful rendition. Chills. Leaky eyes.

Add it to the countless memorable Muny moments we have experienced over the years, even though it was remote. We all felt it sitting in our living rooms.

When host Mike Isaacson, Muny executive producer and artistic director, began this maiden voyage from backstage, he said: “We are together in real time.” He is always mindful of being entrusted with the Muny legacy.

I literally burst into tears. I didn’t realize how badly we, well me, needed such a pick-me-up. Oh sure, I have been a realist as to the why, but still wistful: “This would be opening night at the Muny,” I said to myself June 15, remembering the rainbow that came out after intense rainstorm right before the opening of ‘The Wizard of Oz” in 2016.

Tammy Duensing and I at the Muny 2017

And there are those Facebook memories that pop up, recalling how I felt about a production or selfies with my frequent Plus One, Tammy Duensing, whose belting rendition of the national anthem always gets compliments from the people in the seats around us.

In a year that is all about Plan B while trying to be safe and adapt to unprecedented times during a public health crisis, this savvy move to online specials was a ‘next best thing’ scenario, a balm for disappointment. And spoiler alert – this starburst of a show is longer than an hour (thank you!) and it has a 7-minute intermission. What a grand night for singing! And dancing. And laughs.

What a jolly time the “Munywood Squares” trivia interlude was, hosted by the outstanding director Gordon Greenberg, with such good sports as E. Faye Butler, Ann Harada, Vicki Lewis, John Scherer, Christopher Sieber, Steve Rosen, Raymond J. Lee, all Muny favorites. I was able to see contestants staffer Jaclyn Sales and Leon Dobkowski for the first time, who has designed some of the best costumes in recent years (Tarzan! The Wiz! Hairspray! Mamma Mia! Seussical!) and on the panel Jeffrey Schecter (Schecky) when he is not a whirling dervish being Scuttle or Cosmo or filling in as Pseudolus in “Forum.” And J. Harrison Ghee, who was so memorable as Lola in “Kinky Boots” last summer, looked like a million dollars. No signs of Quarantine 15.

E Faye Butler in “The Wiz.” Photo by Phillip Hamer

Because the world turned upside down six months ago when the coronavirus spread became a global pandemic, life as we know it has changed in nearly every aspect. “The new normal” means live theater is on hold, for the most part, and that meant postponing the Muny’s 102nd season line-up to 2021. While the extended break is another sad sign of many life changes in 2020, that didn’t stop the creative minds churning to see how little bits of summer tradition could be rescued.

Online programming became the go-to, and the Cast Party reunion gatherings on Monday were a wonderful opportunity to connect with people who have given me a great deal of joy that is etched in my memories. The Muny TV YouTube channel is a treasure trove of spectacular dance moments and lustrous voices on a warm summer night. They brought us the Muny Magic concerts from the Sheldon, which were a showcase for the incredible talent that graces the Muny stage, and exciting show/cast announcements the past few years.

Using playful retro colors and designs, this “Summer Variety Hour” throwback to 1970s staple TV programs was a merry way to celebrate the good times we share with family and friends – only they used modern technology to make it happen. Zoom and other virtual platforms have been our saving grace during the lockdown.

Through the Brady Bunch grid of the Zoom, The buoyant Muny Kids sang “Happiness” from “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” demonstrating the exuberance of young talent. Not to be outdone, the gifted and energetic performers, often seen in the ensemble, under the helm of the Colby Dezelick Dancers, came together from their home spaces, to perform a lively “We Go Together” from “Grease.” Colby’s been a fun fixture on the Muny stage – last seen as Angie the Ox in “Guys and Dolls” and the doctor in “Matilda” in ’19.

Muny veterans Jen Cody and Hunter Foster, who have been married for 23 years, performed “The Doctor Is In,” from “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.” Scenes of their past work – including Jen as the Grandma in “The Addams Family” with Puggsley (Michael Harp) in one of that show’s funniest exchanges, and Hunter in a new production of “Pirates!” were shown.

Of course, you couldn’t have a Muny show without displaying the exquisite voices that fill the back rows of the 11,000 seats, and Emma Degerstedt as Ariel certainly did in the inspired “The Little Mermaid” in 2017, one of my favorite productions in the past decade. Her “Fathoms Below/Where I Belong” evoked my water-colored memories of a sweet shimmering show. It was lovely to see the lithe Muny ensemble dancers as well.

Ashley Brown, a Muny player during her college years who originated the role of “Mary Poppins” on Broadway, has a glorious voice, as exemplified in “The Sound of Music” and “Cinderella” at the Muny. She sang “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” from her mother’s home in Florida, as her infant daughter napped.

Through archived clips, we saw a rousing “A Brand New Day” from the resurgent “The Wiz” in 2018, featuring Danyel Fulton as Dorothy, Jared Grimes as the Scarecrow, James T. Lane as the Tin Man and Darius de Haas as the Cowardly Lion. And “Lida Rose” from “The Music Man” with the Barbershop Quartet of Ben Nordstrom, Adam Halpin, J.D. Daw and Joseph Torello harmonizing beautifully.

Mamie Parris and Matt Bogart in “Paint Your Wagon” Photo by Phillip Hamer

To close, 18 cast members of last summer’s reimagined robust “Paint Your Wagon!” sang a vigorous “How Can I Wait?” from all over America, including leads Matt Bogart and Mamie Parris, and supporting players Omar Lopez-Cepero, Bobby Conte Thornton, Maya Keleher, Allan K. Washington, Andrew Kober, Austin Ku, Raymond J. Lee, Rodney Hicks and others. What a perfect song to end an enchanted evening with hope and love. (And it knocked the score of “Hamilton,” which has been playing on constant loop in my brain, since July 3, out and became my new ear worm. Go to Muny TV to hear Mamie Parris in the show.)

This monumental effort to pull all these segments together is applause-worthy – and the hours it took to plan and executive I can only imagine. Everyone was in high spirits – connecting us all in a new, and welcome, way.

If you missed the first one, you have one more opportunity to see it, for Episode 1 will be re-broadcast at 8:15 p.m. Thursday, July 23. There will be four more episodes shown every Monday, then repeated Thursday. On Wednesdays, they will announce the plans for the next episode on social media.

I took this photo during the Birthday Bash, when we could go on stage. May 2018.

We are not sitting under the stars in Forest Park, but Munygoers share a special bond, and this endeavor was a unique experience that brought back fond memories. Like many of you, I have a lifetime of them, starting when my grandma took me when I was 10, a poor kid from a big family in Belleville, watching live theater in wide-eyed wonder. Theater would become a major part of my life, and my appreciation began across the river on those warm summer nights.

One of my favorite things about Episode 1 was how they highlighted the many employees who make Muny nights happen by their tremendous commitment to this outdoor slice of theater heaven. There is such passion in their work. I enjoyed the back story of triple-threat Corbin Bleu, as Don Lockwood in the splendid “Singin’ in the Rain” in 2018, getting to dance in the rain for the first time in his rubber shoes, as told by production manager Tracy Utzmyers. And for technical director Tim McDonald explaining how they make the rain happen for that show, and the previous two, in 2005 and 2011.

And my favorite thing about the Muny since 2009, when a Belleville News-Democrat editor asked me to review the season and I enthusiastically said yes, is the possibilities that a new opening night brings seven times a summer. Will they pull off a premiere or classic with uncommon flair? Will everyone rise to the occasion? What will be the night’s “Wow” moments? I remain in awe of the talent and sweat equity it takes to put on a show, and I am enriched by the storytelling and the performers who connect with me, no matter where I am sitting.

And some have become familiar faces that I look forward to seeking out on stage, and I am grateful for these opportunities to see where the directors’ and production team vision takes me. It’s a all about a community coming together in collaboration – that’s what live theater is and what we miss. (That, and the hugs!).

And thanks to some shining moments Monday night, I was transported to a happy place — and just being able to think about the possibilities ahead, is reason to smile. This is only intermission.

Take care. Stay safe. Be strong.

And thank you Muny and your sponsors, for serving us a refreshing summer tonic that was part nostalgia and part pizzazz, and all heart. It might not be perfect – what live event is? – but it’s important.

The Muny has announced that it will offer 10 weeks of free online Muny entertainment for the summer of 2020. For 10 consecutive Monday nights, with a single repeat stream on the subsequent Thursday, audiences and fans can experience the magic of their Muny summer online at muny.org with both curated and newly created entertainment. The Muny’s free online season is proudly sponsored by World Wide Technology.

Beginning Monday, June 15 through Monday, July 13 fans can enjoy five weeks of Muny Magic in Your Home. This new series will feature exclusive, never-before-seen footage of the The Muny’s concert series  Muny Magic at The Sheldon. Launched in 2015, the popular off-season series hosts Muny fan-favorites for intimate evenings of music, song and story.

The online season launches this Monday, June 15 at 8:15 p.m. CDT with Muny favorite, and Tony and Drama Desk Award-winner, Beth Leavel. The first Muny Magic in Your Home will also feature a guest appearance from Tony Award nominee Lara Teeter, as well as other very special surprise artists. Ms. Leavel’s music director is Phil Reno and she is joined by Vince Clark on bass and Nick Savage on drums.

The complete Muny Magic in Your Home schedule is: Beth Leavel (June 15 and 18), A Night with the Buddy Holly Boys (June 22 and 25), Our Leading Ladies (June 29 and July 2), Our Leading Men (July 6 and 9) and Mikaela Bennett and Alex Prakken (July 13 and 16). For descriptions of each show, please see below.

Beginning Monday, July 20 through Monday, August 17 the Muny will produce five online variety shows featuring Muny friends and family from around the world. The full schedule and weekly lineup will be announced in early July.

All Muny online performances can be streamed on Monday and Thursday evenings at no cost via muny.org. These are exclusive, one-time-only streams and will not be available after the Thursday night airing.
“While we can’t be together in Forest Park this summer, we wanted to have a 102nd season to bring our community and our audiences together in whatever manner we can,” said Muny Artistic Director and Executive Producer, Mike Isaacson. “One of the reasons The Muny has survived and thrived for more than a century is because we’ve been a wonderful ritual, a life bookmark, for generations of St. Louisans. With our online season, we can keep and honor that beautiful tradition. We hope everyone will gather and enjoy these terrific Muny shows.

“Our teams have been hard at work putting together 10 incredible nights of programming that will hopefully help simulate a small piece of the Muny magic audiences feel each summer in Forest Park,” said Muny President and CEO, Denny Reagan. “To kick off our online season with beloved, longtime Muny favorite Beth Leavel is nothing short of exciting. Her Muny Magic in Your Home performance sets the bar for a great online summer season ahead. We are sad that we won’t see our Muny friends and family in person, but we are eager to spend 10 nights together virtually.”
Beth Leavel | June 15 and 18
Sponsored by World Wide Technology

Beth Leavel received Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle and L.A. Drama Critics Awards for her performance as the title character in The Drowsy Chaperone. Other Broadway: Dee Dee Allen in The Prom (2019 Tony Award nomination), Florence Greenberg in Baby It’s You! (Tony, Drama Desk, OCC nominations); BandstandElfMamma Mia!Young Frankenstein42nd Street (original and revival), Crazy for YouThe Civil WarShow Boat. Numerous credits off-Broadway, regional theatre, commercials and television, including the Paper Mill Playhouse production of The Bandstand. MFA from University of North Carolina, Greensboro.

Beth’s Muny credits include: inaugural Muny Magic at The Sheldon featured artist (2015), Mama Rose in Gypsy (2018), Aunt Eller in Oklahoma! (2015); Mrs. Dolly Gallagher Levi in Hello, Dolly! (2014); Sister Robert Anne in Nunsense: Muny Style! (2013); Mrs. Meers in Thoroughly Modern Millie (2012), Miss Hannigan in Annie (2009), Vera Charles in Mame (2005), Dorothy Brock in 42nd Street (2004) and Betty Rizzo in Grease (1988). She has also served as an understudy for some of the greatest Muny leading ladies in 1983: Judy Kaye in Can-Can; Lucie Arnaz in I Do! I Do!; Lynn Redgrave in The King and I and Susan Powell in Promises, Promises.



The Buddy Holly Boys | June 22 and 25
Sponsored by Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital, Drury Hotels, Safety National and Welsch Heating and Cooling Company

After starring as Buddy and the Crickets in The Muny’s 2015 summer blockbuster Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story, Andy Christopher, Joe Cosmo Cogen, Kyle Lacy and Nathan Yates Douglass give an electrifying performance in the highest-attended Muny Magic at The Sheldon to date.


Our Leading Ladies | June 29 and July 2
Sponsored by Augusta Winery and Montelle Winery

Danielle Bowen (Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, 2016), Ali Ewoldt (Martha Jefferson in 1776, 2019; Philia in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, 2017; Maria in West Side Story, 2013), Stephanie Gibson (Gabrielle in Cinderella, 2019; Inga in Young Frankenstein, 2016; Gertie Cummings in Oklahoma!, 2007), and Elena Shaddow (Marian in The Music Man, 2016; Cinderella in Into the Woods, 2015) give heart-stirring tributes to leading ladies of past Muny seasons, including Ethel Merman, Shirley Jones and Bernadette Peters.

Our Leading Men | July 6 and 9
Sponsored by Centene Charitable Foundation

Ben Davis (John Dickinson in 1776, 2019; Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls, 2019; Pilate in Jesus Christ Superstar, 2017; Curly in Oklahoma!, 2015; Emile de Becque in South Pacific, 2013; Galahad in Spamalot, 2013), Davis Gaines (Joseph Pulitzer in Newsies, 2017), Jay Armstrong Johnson (Jack Kelly in Newsies, 2017, Billy Lawlor in 42nd Street, 2016; Barnaby Tucker in Hello, Dolly!, 2014) and Mykal Kilgore (Annas in Jesus Christ Superstar, 2017) celebrate iconic men from past Muny seasons.


Mikaela Bennett and Alex Prakken | July 13 and 16
Sponsored by U.S. Bank

Muny newcomer Mikaela Bennett (Ella in Cinderella, 2019) and St. Louis native, and former Muny Kid and Teen, Alex Prakken (Courier in 1776, 2019; Marius in Les Misérables, 2013) take audiences on an enchanted journey through the musical theatre songbook.

For digital assets, including the Muny Magic in Your Home logo and b-roll of Beth Leavel, please click here World Wide Technology (WWT) became the first overall season sponsor in the history of The Muny in 2014. They are committed to continuing in this role with their leadership gift as The Muny’s 2020 Online Season Presenting Sponsor To stay connected virtually and to receive the latest updates, please follow The Muny on their social media channels, including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
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The Muny’s mission is to enrich lives by producing exceptional musical theatre, accessible to all, while continuing its remarkable tradition in Forest Park. As the nation’s largest outdoor musical theatre, we produce seven world-class musicals each year and welcome over 350,000 theatregoers over our nine-week season. Celebrating 102 seasons in St. Louis, The Muny remains one of the premier institutions in musical theatre.

For more information about The Muny, visit muny.org

15 arts organizations will join forces with OTSL and RAC to present a streamed concert in support of artists whose livelihoods have been directly impacted by COVID-19.

Together with 14 other arts organizations and the Regional Arts Commission (RAC), Opera Theatre of Saint Louis (OTSL) is proud to announce “Arts United STL,” a free virtual benefit in support of RAC’s Artist Relief Fund, which provides critical aid to St. Louis working artists whose livelihoods have been critically interrupted by the pandemic. Produced by OTSL in partnership with the St. Louis Shakespeare Festival, this benefit will take place at 7 p.m. on Sunday, May 31st and present performances from local arts organizations, including The Big Muddy Dance Company, The Black Rep, Circus Flora, COCA, Jazz St. Louis, The Muny, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, St. Louis Ballet, St. Louis Children’s Choirs, St. Louis Shakespeare Festival, St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, The Sheldon, STAGES St. Louis, the Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis, and more. 

Arts United STL was first envisioned by OTSL General Director Andrew Jorgensen as a way for St. Louis’ established arts institutions to help support the community’s vibrant arts ecosystem. After an initial consultation between OTSL, RAC, and the St. Louis Shakespeare Festival, a consortium of 15 organizations was invited across an array of arts mediums. In the coming days, RAC will also encourage open submissions from independent artists and other arts organizations to further highlight the artistic diversity of the city. 

More information about Arts United STL can be found on Opera Theatre’s website at ExperienceOpera.org/ArtsUnited, which will also host the live video stream on Sunday, May 31st. In addition, viewers may watch the livestream via YouTube on Opera Theatre’s channel. Viewers will be encouraged to donate to the RAC Artist Relief Fund during the concert. To date, the Artist Relief Fund has distributed $136,500 in direct support to individual artists. The goal of Arts United STL is to raise an additional $250,000 through 1,000 individual donations and sponsorships. Supporters may donate to the Artist Relief Fund at ExperienceOpera.org/ArtsUnited at any time before, during, or after the live event.

The arts and culture sector is an important driver for the St. Louis economy. According to the 2015 Americans for the Arts Economic Prosperity 5 study commissioned by RAC, the nonprofit arts and culture sector generated $590.9 million and 19,129 full-time equivalent jobs for the greater St. Louis area during that same year. Since the start of the pandemic, based on research conducted by Americans for the Arts, 89% of St. Louis City and County arts institutions have canceled events that would have reached more than 285,000 individuals.

“This benefit represents an exciting and collaborative effort to respond to the global crisis affecting the arts and culture sector in our region,” said Mont Levy, chair of the board of commissioners at RAC. “As the major public funder of arts in the region with a mandate to support individual artists, we know it is RAC’s responsibility to provide emergency support during this time of great need. We could not be more grateful to Opera Theatre of Saint Louis for spearheading this event, or to the St. Louis Shakespeare Festival and every participating organization for their work to highlight the rich cultural tapestry of our region and support their fellow artists.”

The Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis is the largest annual funder of non-profit arts in the region, providing grants to individual artists, arts and culture organizations, and other programs since 1985. RAC established the Artist Relief Fund through the St. Louis Community Foundation on April 1st to help working artists who have lost income due to the pandemic. So far, the fund has distributed $500 and $1,000 grants to more than 130 artists and will resume accepting new relief applications once additional funds have been secured.

OTSL General Director Andrew Jorgensen says of the effort, “We are thrilled to be collaborating with so many other arts organizations to help local artists, whose work makes St. Louis an immeasurably vibrant, special place. OTSL couldn’t be happier to produce this concert in support of artists during these difficult times. This benefit will highlight a fantastic array of art from different genres that reflect the artistic diversity and traditions of this community. I am so grateful to all my many colleagues who are uniting in this remarkable way to support one another and our entire arts ecosystem.”

All participating organizations are donating their time, with production costs and staffing needs covered by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, additional staffing needs covered by St. Louis Shakespeare Festival, and an in-kind donation from Switch. The program will be directed by St. Louis Shakespeare Festival Artistic Director Tom Ridgely. Arts United STL is produced in partnership with the Regional Arts Commission, and the following arts partners: The Big Muddy Dance Company, The Black Rep, Circus Flora, COCA, Jazz St. Louis, The Muny, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, St. Louis Ballet, St. Louis Children’s Choirs, St. Louis Shakespeare Festival, St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, The Sheldon, STAGES St. Louis, and the Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis.

Here is the HEC featurette piece: https://youtu.be/Upzz841hHX4

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About Regional Arts Commission

The Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis (RAC) supports artists and arts organizations through grantmaking, strategic initiatives and other programs that build capacity, improve quality and advance diversity, equity and inclusion within the region’s arts and culture sector. Celebrating its 35th anniversary in 2020, RAC has been pivotal in nurturing the vibrant art scene throughout St. Louis, awarding more than 7,000 grants totaling over $100 million since its inception in 1985. Directed by a board of 15 commissioners appointed by the chief executives of St. Louis City and St. Louis County,  RAC prioritizes quality in its support of nonprofit arts organizations, individual artists, and programs and promotes partnerships that strengthen the sector and drive progress throughout the region. RAC receives its funding from hotel/motel room sales tax revenue from St. Louis City and County. Visit www.racstl.org for more information, or follow us on Facebook at Regional Arts Commission or Twitter @RACStLouis.