By CB Adams

Every so often, The Muny and the St. Louis Symphony come together like Peaches & Herb: “Reunited, and it feels so good…”

These two cultural cousins know how to celebrate. That was definitely the vibe at Power Hall on October 2 when these two local cultural titans combined talents for “A Little Sondheim Music,” a concert to celebrate composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim, a titan of different sort. The last time the Symphony and Muny combined forces was to celebrate the The Muny’s 100th birthday.

With Mike Isaacson, the Muny’s Artistic Director and Executive Producer, at the helm as host and master of ceremony, the lively event perked along through a well-curated roster of songs from Sondheim’s career. This was no jukebox jaunt through Sondheim’s songbook. It was a journey into Sondheim’s impressive range of songs and characters, some of which aren’t among his greatest hits.

So, along with the familiar titles from “Follies,” “A Little Night Music,” “Company” and “Sweeney Todd,” the audience was also to treated to selections from the lesser-known “Saturday Night,” “Evening Primrose” and “Anyone Can Whistle.” Another entire concert or two could be created from Sondheim’s deep cuts from other shows. To borrow a line from “Send In the Clowns, “…well, maybe next year.” (hint, hint).

In his opening, Isaacson quoted the three guiding principles that Sondheim hewed to during his career: content dictates form, less is more and God is in the details. To which Sondheim also added, “All in service of Clarity, without which nothing else matters.”

Bryonha Marie in rehearsal. Julie Merkel photo.

Clarity ruled the afternoon performance and elevated the achievements of Sondheim rather than mourn his passing last November at age 91. Lending their vocal talents to the celebration were some of Broadway’s brightest babies:  Ben Davis, Bryonha Marie, Matthew Scott, Emily Skinner and Elizabeth Stanley. Their talents were on full display, whether performing individually, in duets or as an ensemble. And it would be unfair if not impossible to cite any one performance as a standout because they were all standouts.

Ask 10 audience members what their favorite was, and you’d probably get 10 different answers. My own personal favorite was Skinner’s interpretation of “Send In the Clowns.” Her use of pauses and emphasis provided new insight into the lyrics’ meanings and to the rueful ruminations of the character Desirée in “A Little Night Music.”  I’m just a sucker for that song.

Clarity was certainly one of the concert’s throughlines. Songs such as ”If You Can Find Me, I’m Here,” sung by Scott, and “Broadway Baby,” sung by Marie, exemplify Sondheim’s ability to pack an entire show’s worth of characterization into a single lyric. And Scott interpreted his song by channeling an inner Dustin Hoffman, ala “The Graduate,” and Marie delivered sass, sashay and plenty of boop-oop-a-doop to hers.  

Each Sondheim song is its own mini-musical. All of the performers tapped into this with brio and moxie, moving across the narrow strip of stag and conjuring the spirit of the actual musicals. Even if you didn’t know the show, you understood it from the song itself. That’s part Sondheim genius, part musical magic and part high-caliber performance from the artists.

Rehearsal photo of the two Bens – Davis and Whiteley. Photo by Julie Merkel.

Cases in point: Davis, fresh off this last summer’s successful Muny production of “Sweeney Todd,” reprised his take on the chilling “My Friends” by pivoting from fetishistic heavy petting of cutlery to the abrupt declaration, “At last, my arm is complete again!” Dexter should be so lucky.

And Stanley provided a disarmingly plaintive interpretation of “In Buddy’s Eyes” from “Follies” that reworked the breathless suffering usually associated with this song – written for an older character – into an ironic conscience examination of someone younger.

Also providing clarity to the concert was the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Maestro Ben Whiteley, who has long been a member of the Muny artistic family. Host Isaacson thanked Whiteley “…who really created this program, bringing his incredible knowledge and passion to the creation of this program.”

The orchestra launched the performance with the opening overture to “Merrily We Roll Along” and was featured post-intermission with the overture to “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” as well as a smooth and graceful “Night Waltz” from “A Little Night Music” in the second half. These were a potent reminder of the beauty of Sondheim’s compositions and how much a fine performance of them deepens their impact.

Also in the second half was a special appearance by St. Louis native Ken Page who sang “Anyone Can Whistle” with a sage-like preciousness that did the Old Deuteronomy cat proud.

As the concert drew to a close, Isaacson quoted Sondheim who answered an interviewer’s question about what he hoped his legacy would be. “Oh, I just would like the shows to keep getting done. Whether on Broadway, or in regional theaters, or schools or communities, I would just like the stuff to be done. Just done and done and done and done and done.”

With a concert like “A Little Sondheim Music,” The Muny and the Symphony have ensured that at least one of those done’s was accomplished – and done to perfection. It doesn’t get much clearer than that.

Featured Photo: Ben Whiteley, Michael Baxter, Nicolas Valdez, Bryonha Marie, Ben Davis, Matthew Scott, Emily Skinner.. Photo by Julie Merkel.

Matthew Scott in rehearsal. Photo by Julie Merkel.

Collaborative Concert “A Little Sondheim Music” Oct 2. at Powell Hall

The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and The Muny announced details about their latest collaboration: the upcoming concert honoring the late Stephen Sondheim, A Little Sondheim Music on Sunday, October 2, at 3:00pm. Sondheim, who passed away in November 2021 at age 91, is credited with reinventing the American musical, both as a lyricist and composer, throughout his prolific career.

Hosted by Mike Isaacson, Artistic Director and Executive Producer of The Muny, with musical staging by Michael Baxter, and conducted by Muny veteran Ben Whiteley, the concert includes selections from many of Sondheim’s most beloved musicals, including Merrily We Roll AlongSondheim On SondheimInto the WoodsFolliesA Little Night MusicCompany, and Sweeney Todd. All lyrics and music by Stephen Sondheim, with various arrangers and orchestrators.

Performing with the SLSO are several veteran theater performers, whose credits include Broadway musicals, West End productions, Muny productions, television, and more: Ben Davis, Bryonha Marie, Matthew Scott, Emily Skinner, and Elizabeth Stanley. Broadway veteran and St. Louis native Ken Page also makes a special appearance.

Collaborations between the two organizations date back to at least 1919, when the SLSO provided entertainment for patrons of The Muny during summer performances including Robin Hood and The Mikado. The tradition of collaboration returned in 1994 when the SLSO performed on The Muny stage in a celebration concert titled “Gateway to the Gold,” a salute to the U.S. Olympic Festival. The SLSO and The Muny last performed together in 2018 as part of The Muny’s centennial celebration.

Tickets are on sale now for this unique concert partnership between two of St. Louis’ most storied and celebrated arts institutions. Tickets can be purchased by visiting slso.org or by calling the SLSO Box Office at 314-534-1700.

Mike Isaacson

A Little Sondheim Music: The Muny and SLSO Celebrate Stephen Sondheim

Sunday, October 2, 2022, 3:00pm

Ben Whiteley, conductor

Ben Davis, vocals
Bryonha Marie, vocals
Matthew Scott, vocals
Emily Skinner, vocals
Elizabeth Stanley, vocals
With special appearance by Ken Page

Mike Isaacson, host

Artist Bios:

Ben Davis recently received critical acclaim as Sweeney Todd in the Muny’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Davis received a Tony Honor for his work as Marcello in Baz Luhrmann’s Broadway production of La Boheme. His extensive credits, spanning from Broadway to London, include Encores! Call Me Madam opposite Carmen Cusack, Dear Evan Hansen, Violet, A Little Night MusicLes MisérablesThe Sound of Music, Kiss Me Kate for the BBC at London’s Royal Albert Hall and NBC’s, Annie Live. Concert credits include Philly Pops, RTÉ Orchestra, Tanglewood, Caramoor, and many others.

Bryonha Marie

Bryonha Marie has rapidly established herself as one of the brightest young stars currently on Broadway and in the classical crossover arena. Best known for her tour de force Broadway performance in Prince of Broadway, a career retrospective of the work of Harold Prince, Marie has also thrilled Broadway audiences as Serena in Porgy & Bess. Other Broadway credits include After Midnight (featured and principal cover for Patti LaBelle, Toni Braxton, k.d. lang, and Fantasia), the revival of Ragtime (Sarah’s Friend), and The Book of Mormon.

Matthew Scott has performed as Adam Hochberg in An American In Paris on Broadway and the National Tour; Sondheim On Sondheim with Barbara Cook and Vanessa Williams; and A Catered AffairJersey Boys, and Grand Horizons. On the West End he has performed as Lee in I Loved Lucy at the Arts Theatre. Regional credits include The Light In The Piazza (Barrymore Award); Saturday NightBeachesCompanySide by Side by SondheimChaplin (San Diego Critics Nomination), A Wonderful Life, RagtimeMy Fair LadyCarouselWest Side Story (Kevin Kline Award Nomination), Legally BlondeSwing!Les MiserablesSunset Boulevard, and Mamma Mia.

Emily Skinner has established herself as one of Broadway’s most engaging and versatile performers. She was most recently seen in Barrington Stage’s production of A Little Night Music where she received rave reviews for her fresh take on Desiree Armfeldt. Previously she appeared in the Broadway-bound musical Once Upon a One More Time at the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, DC, and on Broadway as Georgia Holt, Cher’s Mother, in The Cher Show.

Heralded as one of the “Breakout Stars of 2020” by The New York Times, Elizabeth Stanley received Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle Award nominations, and a Grammy Award for her recent performance as Mary Jane Healy in the musical Jagged Little Pill, inspired by the music of Alanis Morissette, book by Diablo Cody, and directed by Diane Paulus. Stanley has dazzled Broadway audiences as Claire De Loone in the revival of On the Town (Drama Desk Nomination), Dyanne in Million Dollar Quartet, Allison in Cry Baby, and April in the Tony Award-winning revival of Company.

Ken Page is a St. Louis native with a career spanning over 45 years. He is most widely known as the voice of “Oogie Boogie” in the Tim Burton/Disney film The Nightmare Before Christmas and has recreated his role in sold out concerts live to film at The Hollywood Bowl on four occasions as well as at Brooklyn’s Barclay Center, Tokyo, Glasgow, London (with the London Philharmonic Orchestra), and Dublin. Broadway/UK credits include Guys & DollsAin’t Misbehavin’ (Emmy-winning NBC special, Drama Desk Award-Best Actor, Grammy Award), Cats as Old Deuteronomy (Original Broadway Cast, London Video Cast, Grammy Award), The WizAin’t Nothin’ But the BluesWizard of OzChildren of Eden (London West End Original Cast), My One and Only (London Palladium), Mr. Wonderful (Theatre Royal Drury Lane), and The Little Mermaid (Hollywood Bowl).

SLSO

About the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra

Celebrated as a leading American orchestra, the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra is the second-oldest orchestra in the country, marking its 143rd year with the 2022/2023 season and its fourth with Music Director Stéphane Denève. The SLSO maintains its commitment to artistic excellence, educational impact, and community collaborations, honoring its mission of enriching lives through the power of music.

The SLSO serves as a convener of individuals, creators, and ideas, and is committed to building community through compelling and inclusive musical experiences. As it continues its longstanding focus on equity, diversity, inclusion, and access, the SLSO embraces its strengths as a responsive, nimble organization, while investing in partnerships locally and elevating its presence globally. For more information, visit slso.org.

About The Muny

The Muny’s mission is to enrich lives by producing exceptional musical theatre, accessible to all, while continuing its remarkable tradition in Forest Park. The country’s largest outdoor musical theatre produces seven world-class musicals each year and welcomes over 400,000 theatregoers over our seven-show season. Now celebrating 104 seasons in St. Louis, The Muny remains one of the premier institutions in musical theatre. 

The Muny

By Lynn Venhaus
As frothy as a cappuccino and sweet as cotton candy, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” took hold of The Muny stage as a swirling kaleidoscope of color, a glittery burst of cheer from a youthful ensemble that brings it home.

In the first full season after the challenging post-pandemic years 2020-2021, The Muny wraps up a groundbreaking summer with this beloved big, splashy musical that has been here six times. Last produced in 2012, the show first arrived in 1986 and returned in 1997, 2002 and 2007.

With its technical razzle-dazzle matched by the effervescent Muny Kids and Teens in the youth ensemble and children’s choir, the entire company looked like they were at the happiest place on earth.

That engaged the crowd, and the charismatic principals Jason Gotay as golden child Joseph, Jessica Vosk as the regal Narrator, and Mykal Kilgore as the swaggering Pharoah elevated the wispy material, delivering knock-out performances.

Narrator and Potiphar. Photo by Phillip Hamer.

However, the show is not without heartache and adversity – with a turnaround because of strength, perseverance, and blessings, for it is based on the Old Testament Book of Genesis tale of Jacob, his favorite son Joseph, his 11 other sons, and that famous coat of many colors.  

After Joseph’s jealous brothers sell him into slavery, he impresses the Egyptian noble Potiphar, but then rejects his wife’s amorous advances, and is thrown in jail. While locked up, Joseph’s talent for interpreting dreams is put to good use. He ingratiates himself with the Pharoah because he offers a solution to the country’s famine, and that stroke of fortune results in Joseph becoming the Pharoah’s right-hand man. He is eventually reunited with his family.

In the stylized re-imagining by composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice, the story is told through song and dance.

Considered innovative in the 1970s, the musical comedy has expanded over time, and is now regarded as a family-friendly favorite staged by thousands of schools and groups in the U.S. and across the pond. 

The EGOT duo began this journey collaborating for the second time in 1968. Commissioned by a music teacher who was a family friend of Webber’s, their 15-minute pop cantata was performed at the Colet Court School in London. After more tinkering, it was recorded by Decca Records in 1969.

When their next piece, the rock opera “Jesus Christ Superstar,” skyrocketed them to fame in 1971, the earlier musical was stretched to 35 minutes for the Edinburgh International Festival the next year. More modifications followed, and the modern format was staged in 1974. It was mounted on Broadway in 1982 and nominated for seven Tony Awards. Revivals, tours and a 1999 direct-to-video film starred Donny Osmond followed.

Like the other pop Biblical musical of that era, Stephen Schwartz’s “Godspell,” it is re-interpreted for every presentation. Consider this the theme park ride version, with the youngsters displaying as much energy as those attending summer cheerleading camps.

Photo by Phillip Hamer.

It’s a swell dance party, briskly performed in several celebratory scenes and elaborate pastiches – including countrified “One More Angel in Heaven/Hoedown,” the French-inspired lament “Those Canaan Days,” island-flavored “Benjamin Calypso” and the grandmaster flashy finale “Megamix.”

The pleasant pop-py tunes “Any Dream Will Do” and “Go, Go, Go Joseph.” are certain to be hummable on your way home.

Music director Charlie Alterman, who won last year’s St Louis Theater Circle Award for “Chicago,” is adept at lively shows with many moving parts and his orchestras are a treat to listen to — and he’s aware of the Muny’s pit challenges this season.

Of course, a show directed and choreographed by Josh Rhodes would seize the day. Rhodes, who is known for his athletic and acrobatic dances, returns after successes helming “Jersey Boys,” “Paint Your Wagon” and that stunning tap number to “Putting on the Ritz” in 2016’s “Young Frankenstein.”

This is a show that requires a special set of skills, and Rhodes’ crisp and snappy choreography is flat-out fun. He was aided by associate choreographer Lee Wilkins and dance captain Emilie Renier.

In its last national tour in 2014, the ingenious three-time Tony Award winner Andy Blankenbuehler directed and choreographed a fresh interpretation that ran at the Fox Theatre that spring. That show featured American Idol finalist Ace Young as Joseph and his wife, fellow finalist Diana DeGarmo, as the Narrator.

The role of Joseph is often filled by a pop star – and teen heartthrobs David Cassidy, Andy Gibb and Donny Osmond have played the lead before. (And first American Idol runner-up Justin Guarini, who has played various roles at the Muny, was Joseph in 2012.)

At the Muny, Jason Gotay has won over hearts as a charming leading man, appearing as Prince Eric in “The Little Mermaid,” Prince Topher in “Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella” and as Jack in “Into the Woods.”

His strong velvety vocals emphasize he is no lightweight, heart-tugging in “Close Every Door.”  He commands the stage confidently, capably leading the large cast in the group numbers.

Mykal Kilgore as the Pharoah. Photo by Phillip Hamer.

However, the showstopper in this production is Mykal Kilgore.

One of my favorites since I saw him at the Muny Magic concert at the Sheldon in 2017, the affable Kilgore slays as the megawatt Pharoah. It’s as if James Brown and Little Richard had a baby.

 In a departure from the previous Elvis-like personas, Kilgore reaches back to his R&B roots for “Song of the King,” bringing the house down. The Pharoah’s stage time is brief, but his impact is mighty.

Jessica Vosk makes her Muny debut, playing a hands-on narrator who just doesn’t just observe the action from the sidelines, but propels it along. Here, she is a surrogate mother hen to the youngsters as she tells the tale.

Vosk has the powerful pipes to fill an arena and is well-suited for this grand production. She has played the role before, in the 50th anniversary show at the Lincoln Center, and is remarkably assured while the action bubbles up around her.

Other noteworthy debuts are multi-hyphenate Eric Jordan Young in the dual role of well-meaning Jacob and flamboyant Potiphar, and Darron Hayes as playful Judah, who takes the lead in “Benjamin Calypso.”

The adult choir is chock-full of Muny regulars, and some familiar castmates are playing brothers. Dynamic Harris Milgrim, a standout as Benjamin in last year’s “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” is again as Reuben in “One More Angel.”

Sean Ewing, in his third season at the Muny, is second son Simeon, amusing in “Old Canaan Days.”

Not all the hijinks work, for the mashups often are silly, and the gaudy pageantry can easily slide into trivial frivolity, but that’s the problem with the show itself. As the years ago on, they keep gilding the lily, adding more to an already over-the-top show. But it remains a huge crowd-pleaser.

And the joyous look on those kids’ faces on stage said it all. (I counted 40 in the youth ensemble and 14 in the children’s choir, in addition to the 19 in ensemble, not to mention principals.)

Photo by Phillip Hamer.

Edward E. Haynes Jr., the award-winning scenic designer for “Smokey Joe’s Café” last year, combines glitz, a Skittles rainbow of bold colors, and Egyptian symbols for the second act, in a whimsical set reminiscent of Tim Burton and the Marvel superheroes’ cinematic universe.

In a stunning backdrop, he references King Tutankhamen’s gold headdress in a giant piece anchoring a fancy staircase with neon piping..

Video designer Greg Emetaz is in sync with Haynes’ vision, and an extension of the gold-plated theme uniting the looks is on the LED screens.

Costume designer Leon Dobkowski references Vegas showgirls, exotic images and B.C. looks to create sparkly outfits and a sunny vibe. His elaborate headdresses are something special to see. The different gold fabrics stand out in garments, and kudos to wig designer Kelly Jordan for the Pharoah’s massive ‘do.

Jason Lyons’ lighting design capitalizes on the wonder and magical parts, and smartly ascertains between the dreamy sequences and the dark times.

It’s fitting that The Muny focused on home, family, relying on each other and connection for the last show of the 104th season, particularly after what they endured from mid-June to now with the double-whammy of back-to-back floods, extreme heat – even by St. Louis standards (oh you layered Edwardian Londoners in “Mary Poppins”!), and a new strain of COVID-19 on the rise in the region (but thanks to understudies and swings, the shows went on).

In his annual farewell address, Mike Isaacson, executive producer and artistic director since 2011, joked that the season was ‘biblical,’ and who could argue?

Known for its fizzy fun, “Joseph” delivered a spectacle to end the season on a high-spirited note.

If you think of the Muny in terms of a summer vacation, “Chicago” was nightlife fun, “Camelot” was a Renaissance Faire, “Mary Poppins” was a trip to the Magic House, “Legally Blonde” was a class reunion, “Sweeney Todd” was visiting the Louvre, “The Color Purple” was the Smithsonian and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” was a trip to Disneyland.

Until we meet again under the stars in Forest Park, here’s raising a glass to a summer tradition that I am grateful for, and will never ever take for granted.

Cast of ‘Joseph.’ Photo by Phillip Hamer.

The Muny presents the musical “Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” Aug.13-18 at 8:15 pm. Performances take place on the outdoor stage in Forest Park. For more information, visit www. muny.org.

Eric Jordan Young. Photo by Phillip Hamer.

By Lynn Venhaus

In its Muny premier, “The Color Purple” is a momentous experience — one that cannot be missed for its historic and landmark significance, but also because it’s one of the finest ever ensembles in its 104 seasons.

The cast takes us on an unforgettable emotional journey, and their glorious harmonies soar into the summer night.

Delivering a story of uncommon courage and grace in a harrowing account of deeply rooted cruelty and oppression, the core group of female principals makes us feel their sorrows, love, pain, and indomitable spirit.

To paraphrase Annie Lennox and Aretha Franklin, sisters are doing it for themselves (referencing a 1985 Eurythmics female empowerment song). And what a sisterhood it is!

In 1909, Celie is a humble, hard-working 14-year-old poor black girl living in rural Georgia, who has delivered two babies whose father is her father, and Pa (Duane Martin Foster) has taken them away.

Several years later, he makes a deal to give Celie to Albert “Mister” Johnson, an emotionally and physically abusive widower and farmer, to care for his unruly children and serve him and his family.

She spared her sister, Nettie, so that she could follow her dream of being a teacher. Unbeknownst to Celie for a long time, the compassionate Nettie winds up with a missionary family in Africa, and is eventually tracked down by Shug Avery, another important influence in Celie’s life.

Celie has gone from one house of horrors to another. This is unsettling, of course, but her unwavering faith sees her through these tough times, as do the people who raise her up. She has always found solace with her sister and in church, and as time passes, it is the community that relies on her that pays back her kindness.

While taking care of Mister’s home, the nurturing Celie meets the glamorous, worldly, and determined nightclub chanteuse Shug Avery. They eventually share a romantic relationship and deep bond despite the singer having an on-again, off-again affair with Mister and a marriage to Grady.

One of Mister’s grown children, Harpo, marries Sofia, and she is a strong-willed free spirit, known for her independence and speaking her mind, with her phrase: “Hell, no!” even a song title. She cannot be ‘tamed,’ but she loves Harpo. Sofia’s stance will bring her serious harm.

Over the course of several decades, what the women learn, how they grow and overcome obstacles will tug at our hearts, so that the mercy shown in the second act leads to triumph– and for the men too.

Marsha Norman wrote this tough adaptation of Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning touchstone novel, a National Book Award winner in 1982, which told Celie’s story through letters she wrote to her sister and children.

Sisters Nettie and Celie “Our Prayer.” Photo by Phillip Hamer.

For director Steven Spielberg, Menno Meyjes adapted the book into a 1985 movie that garnered 11 Academy Award nominations (but famously did not win any). A new movie based on the musical is set for a December 2023 release.

The heart and soul of any version is Celie, and it’s no fluke that both actresses who played Celie on Broadway — LaChanze in the original 2005 production and Cynthia Erivo in the 2016 revival — won Tony Awards (Director John Doyle’s re-imagining also won the Tony Award for Best Revival).

In this powerhouse role, Anastacia McCleskey is transcendent, bringing out the dignity, heartbreak, and virtues of a true survivor of overwhelming trauma. This tour de force performance is deeply felt and delivered with remarkable strength and skill.

Her eyes glistening with tears, McCleskey became a bona fide star in her 11 o’clock number, “I’m Here,” in which she expresses self-love and perseverance, and left us in awe. The thunderous ovation that followed was one of the longest in memory. Goosebump moments, indeed.

When she leads the cast in the finale, a fervent reprise of “The Color Purple,” it’s impossible for the audience to not have been affected by this sublime show.

Yes, it’s gut-wrenching, but it’s also about healing, resilience, and the mighty power of love. Throughout our history, we have learned that we should never forget what’s happened before, those teachable moments that make us better people.

The score includes gospel, jazz, ragtime, blues, and African beats, with songs by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, and Stephen Bray that bring out the purpose, yearnings and period of these early 20th century lives.

“Mysterious Ways” number. Photo by Phillip Hamer.

The cast is stellar from leads to brief parts, evident from the Sunday church services depicted in “Mysterious Ways,” with Omega Jones belting out praise as the preacher and Alexis J. Rosten, Shantel Cribbs and Melanie Loren instant crowd-pleasers as the supremely talented trio of church ladies Doris, Darlene, and Jarene.

You will quickly discover what a joyful noise this ensemble will make, their strong vocals providing a sense of faith, hope and charity that church communities share.

Nasia Thomas, who stood out in last year’s “Smokey Joe’s Cafe,” is impressive as Celie’s beloved sister Nettie. You can feel a palpable bond between them, as if they were real sisters. Their duets are beautiful, especially the touching “Our Prayer.”

In the showy role as the irrepressible Shug, singer Tracee Beazer sashays across the stage with ultra-confidence. She leads the big splashy number “Push Da Button” but it’s her poignant ballads, “Too Beautiful for Words” and “The Color Purple,” that showcase her vocal strengths, as well as the exquisite “What About Love?”, a tender duet with Celie.

Nicole Michelle Haskins as Sofia and Gilbert Domally as Harpo reprise their roles from the acclaimed 2019 Drury Lane Theatre production in Chicago and endear as a dynamic couple — and as individuals. They have a fun, playful duet “Any Little Thing.”

Gilbert Domally, Nicole Michelle Haskins, Evan Tyrone Martin, Anastacia McCleskey. Photo by Phillip Hamer.

As the villain Mister, Evan Tyrone Martin inspires a gamut of emotions as the heartless husband perpetuating a long cycle of suffering. After he’s cursed and lost everything, “The Mister Song” begins his redemption.

Fine in supporting roles are Erica Durham as the colorful Squeak, Sean Walton as flashy Grady, and Jos N. Banks as lively Buster. Muny favorite Kennedy Holmes portrays Olivia and Rodney Thompson is Adam, Celie’s children.

The staging on a simple slab with different levels depicting various locales is a smart move by scenic designer Arnel Sanciano, which narrows our focus to the human interaction. Other accoutrements, such as Harpo’s sign for his juke joint and fields of purple flowers, are deftly handled on the LED screen by video designer Paul Deziel.

The creative team is new to the Muny but not the material. Director Lili-Anne Brown, music director Jermaine Hill and choreographer Breon Arzell were responsible for the Drury Lane Theatre production in fall 2019 that received seven Joseph Jefferson Awards nominations and won two — for directing and supporting role (Haskins).

Their collaboration has transferred well to the large outdoor stage. Every part of this exercise is told with attentiveness and passion.

The trio’s vision is brought vividly to life by the top-tier ensemble and their team, including outstanding craftsmanship by lighting designer Heather Gilbert and sound designers John Shivers and David Patridge. Production stage manager Jhanae Bonnick keeps everything at a brisk pace.

“Miss Celie’s Pants.” Photo by Phillip Hamer.

The costumes are a panoply of 40 years of style, with costume designer Samantha C. Jones dressing a church-going community in their Sunday best, what they wear to work and play in a Southern town, and how they dress up for a juke joint. Wig designer is Kelly Jordan.

With Celie designing pants in the second act, a striking array of comfortable yet stylish outfits are on display. That celebration number “Miss Celie’s Pants” marks such a turning point in the story and is one big smile.

If you believe, as I do, that if you spread light and love in the world, and are a good person, then the universe responds in kind. That is ultimately why Celie’s story resonates. Yes, she endured hell on earth, but she never gave up her belief in goodness, and finally realized her worth as a human being.

Purple symbolizes strength, transformation, power, wisdom and bravery, and all meanings can be applied here.

What an inspiration Alice Walker’s book was to the world 40 years ago, and continues to be, and what a distinguished accomplishment this show is for The Muny and St. Louis.

Nasia Thomas, Anastacia McCleskey, Rodney Thompson, Kennedy Holmes. Photo by Phillip Hamer.

The Muny presents the musical “The Color Purple” Aug. 3-9 at 8:15 p.m. nightly on the outdoor stage in Forest Park. For more information or tickets, visit www.muny.org.

Church Ladies. Photo by Phillip Hamer.

The Muny announced today that the Tuesday, July 26 performance of Legally Blonde The Musical, which opened last night, will be postponed due to flooding in Forest Park and on The Muny campus caused by record-breaking rainfall overnight.

The rescheduled performance will take place on Monday, August 1 at 8:15 pm. All tickets will automatically be rescheduled for Monday evening’s performance. Ticket holders may visit muny.org for more information. The Wednesday, July 27 performance will go on as scheduled.

“Above all else, our thoughts are with all other flood victims in the region,” said Kwofe Coleman, President and CEO. “Despite the shocking damage we found today on the grounds of The Muny, we are thankful to be able to reschedule tonight’s performance for Monday evening. I am personally grateful for everyone who adjusted so quickly and worked to make this happen.”

Tickets for tonight’s July 26, 2022 performance will be honored on the new date of Monday, August 1, 2022 at 8:15pm. If this date does not work for you, you may exchange your ticket in person at The Muny Box Office for a different performance of Legally Blonde.

Your Options:
A) Attend Monday, August 1 – no action required. Your current ticket will gain entry into the theatre.
B) Attend a different  performance of Legally Blonde – Exchanges can be made in person at The Muny Box Office, open daily 9 AM – 9PM
C) Should you be unable to attend another performance, refunds will be honored.

Have a mobile ticket? If you have downloaded your ticket, it will remain valid. If you have not downloaded your ticket yet to your phone, you will be sent a new ticket for Monday, August 1.

Thank you for your patience and understanding as we get The Muny campus ready for your arrival

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 2022 Season includes Chicago (June 13-19), Lerner and Loewe’s Camelot (June 22-28), Disney and Cameron Macintosh’s Mary Poppins (July 5-13), Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (July 16-22), Legally Blonde, The Musical (July 25-August 1), The Color Purple (August 3-9) and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (August 12-18).

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 world-class musicals each year and welcome over 350,000 theatregoers over our summer 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.

Forest Park outside the Muny
Bathroom

By CB Adams

 Whether you’re a die-hard Muny season ticket holder, a Stephen Sondheim devotee, someone attracted to a dark Dickensian tale about a murderous Victorian barber, someone seeking a great night of musical theater, or anything in between, “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” is a must-see.

Fresh off the heels (or should we say umbrella) of “Mary Poppins” comes a show with a wholly different cut. It’s populated with hordes of the great unwashed, a steampunk-inspired set, love songs sung to razors and more dead bodies on stage than a Greek tragedy. And if that’s not enough, add in the music and lyrics by Sondheim (one of his greatest showpieces). Who else could have created a toe-tapping sing-along about meat pies made with human flesh?

“Sweeney Todd” originally opened in 1979 and, after sweeping the Tony Awards, has since grown into one of Broadway’s top-ten musicals – emphasis on musical because 80 percent of this show is sung. It is just now making its Muny premiere after a two-year pandemic-induced delay. It is definitely worth the wait.

Photo by Julia Merkle

This a muscular “go big or go home” production. Rob Ruggiero, director, and Mike Isaacson, artistic director and executive producer, leveraged their many talents and definitely chose the go-big option. They take full advantage of the Muny’s automated stage with its performer lifts, turntable and scenery wagons. A tip of the hat also goes to Jessica Hartman, associate director and musical staging, and James Moore, musical director, for their talents.

One of the challenges of “Sweeney Todd” is presenting the violence and carnage, which includes numerous throat slashings. The bloodletting is cleverly and effectively portrayed through lighting (thanks to design by John Lasiter) rather than with fountains of fake blood.  

As befits the big production values, this “Sweeney Todd” requires – and delivers – a powerful principal cast. Tony nominee Carmen Cusack, an audience favorite, plays the crafty, ambitious Mrs. Lovett. Cusack’s voice is equal to Ben Davis’s booming Sweeney Todd. Davis achieves a Todd who is complex, wounded and angry, and can still fill the stage with a larger-than-life presence. Julie Hanson’s bawdy Beggar Woman weaves throughout the scenes like an annoying fly with a Cockney accent, while Stephen Wallen’s corpulent The Beadle waddles about like an officious toady in service to Robert Cuccioli’s imperious, love-struck lech, Judge Turpin.

Photo by Phillip Hamer

Even a slasher show like “Sweeney Todd” has a love story at its heart. Riley Noland plays Johanna with a thin high voice that befits her role as captive and victim. Her duet with Jake Boyd as sailor boy/love interest Anthony Hope is an extended highlight of this production. Though the two interact mostly from afar, their love and attraction is palpable.

Lincoln Clauss’s Tobias Ragg is a standout. The Ragg character evolves from wig-wearing hawker of snake-oil hair tonic to sprite-like table server and finally to traumatized avenger. Clauss has the acting and vocal range to match.

This production also makes full use of a large ensemble chorus with a panoply of tatty, bedraggled characters who introduce and frame Sweeney Todd’s descent from a cruelly treated barber into a lusty lasher and ultimately tragic victim of his own revengeful scheming. And, there haven’t been this many raised fists on the Muny stage since “Les Misérables” was in town.

The ensemble sings the last chorus at the conclusion of “Sweeney Todd,” but it’s the audience, walking toward the exits and excitedly talking about this production’s wow factor, that gets the last word and best positive review.

Photo by Phillip Hamer

The Muny presents “Sweeney Todd” July 16 – 22 at 8:15 p.m. nightly on the outdoor stage in Forest Park. For tickets or more information, visit: www.muny.org.

Photo by Phillip Hamer
The cast of Sweeney Todd. Photo by Phillip Hamer

By Lynn Venhaus

When the titular character floats in using her umbrella, carried by the East wind to 17 Cherry Tree Lane in London, it’s a welcome jolt of joy — signaling that a merry time is ahead in this stage musical version of “Mary Poppins.”

And this vibrant, candy colored Muny production of the beloved magical nanny tale is as whimsical as you remember.

Director John Tartaglia makes it sparkly and this cast of 75 brings the magic that he is striving for in his sixth show, hoping to see smiles on a summer night.

The nostalgia factor is high, recalling the sublime Oscar-winning performance of Julie Andrews in the iconic 1964 Disney movie, which is based on P.L. Travers’ series of children’s books, eight of them starting in 1934.

Disney’s crowning live-action achievement was the highest-grossing film of 1964 and garnered 13 Oscar nominations, winning five: (actress, editing, original music score, visual effects, and song for “Chim Chim Cher-ee”). During Walt’s lifetime, it was the only one of his films to earn a Best Picture nomination.

With Travers’ permission, master producer Cameron Mackintosh turned the tale into an acclaimed stage musical in London in 2004, which opened on Broadway in 2006, and continued for more than six years. It closed on March 3, 2013, after 2,619 – the 24th longest-running show in Broadway history.

The show is a mix of the movie and the books. The sentimentality is part of its appeal, and this ensemble blends both freshness and fondness for the traditional qualities to please a new generation.

Jeanna de Waal is an ideal Mary, moving with ease, popping in and out with her grace and regal bearing.  She is a good sport for her spectacular flying segments, with seamless effects work by ZFX.

For a little extra insight into the mystical nanny, she projects an air of mystery, indicating there’s more than meets the eye. She also sings like a dream, smoothly cavorting in the newer song “Practically Perfect” and a reworked setting for “A Spoonful of Sugar.”

In fact, this is a cast of glorious voices.

The charismatic and charming Corbin Bleu uses his considerable song and dance skills as the lovable happy-go-lucky Bert. It’s a triumphant return to the Muny following his sensational turn as Don Lockwood in “Singin’ in the Rain” in 2018. He had dazzled critics and audiences alike, winning the St. Louis Theater Circle Award for Best Actor in a Musical. 

Photo by Phillip Hamer

Bleu, who first came to prominence as Chad in the “High School Musical” movies, works well with De Waal and the ensemble — and has a few cool moves I won’t spoil.

That score by Robert B. and Richard M. Sherman is unforgettable – and in fact, some Muny patrons sang along. But the musical is not a replica of the film, for “I Love to Laugh” has been omitted, as has “Sister Suffragette,” “Stay Awake” and “Fidelity Fiduciary Bank.”

With a few exceptions, the new songs by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe do not seem to be as catchy as the Sherman brothers’ collaborations. Even at a 2 hour and 35 minute-run time, “Anything Can Happen,” delivered in two parts, seems to drag on and on. A little editing of some numbers would have made for a tighter experience.

“The Life I Lead” has been replaced by “Precision and Order,” sung by the stern banker, George Banks. In Julian Fellowes’ book, George is revealed to have had a strict childhood, and the parents are more dysfunctional, with Winifred Banks a former actress who can’t seem to fit in to the elite society, and the two children, Jane and Michael, are naughtier.

The real-life husband-and-wife duo of Nehal Joshi and Erin Davie are splendid in vocals and their character development. Their new songs include “A Man Has Dreams” and “Being Mrs. Banks.” I do wish Mrs. Banks was still a suffragette, as Glynis Johns was so robustly in the film.

The kids are brattier – as played by Laila Fantroy and Gabe Cytron, so they are not likable, especially when acting entitled and wreaking havoc in the kitchen, but their growth results in more compassionate youngsters. Whew!

A new character, Robertson Ay, is a screwball addition, and Barrett Riggins, so deliciously wicked in “Camelot,” shines as the bumbling oh-so-not-helpful houseboy.

Chipper Jade Jones has the versatile three-peat of Katie Nanna, Mrs. Corry and Miss Smythe.

Photo by Phillip Hamer

Debby Lennon, two-time St. Louis Theater Circle Award winner, is a hoot as the “Holy Terror!” – aka George’s cruel childhood nanny Miss Andrew – who arrives to get everyone back in ship-shape after the breezy frolics with Mary. She is overbearing in “Brimstone and Treacle Parts 1 and 2.”

A masterful Darlesia Cearcy brings the house down as the Birdwoman at the park, with a superbly executed rendition and reprise of “Feed the Birds.”

Other high points include the jaunty stroll through the park “Jolly Holiday,” the robust showstopper “Step in Time,” a bubbly “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” at Mrs. Corry’s sweet shop and a wondrous “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” with the ensemble placed through the audience with red kites.

First seen in 2013 when the show was led by Muny fan favorites Jenny Powers and Rob McClure, this version is as enchanting, with Tartaglia’s penchant for puppetry giving an added ‘oomph.’

He has created another Muny moment with puppeteers swarming the stage with flocks of birds, produced by puppet designer Eric Wright of Puppet Kitchen International Inc. It’s a marvelous sight.

Tartaglia, such a bouncy personality as evident through his Muny performances (The Genie in “Aladdin,” The Cat in the Hat in “Seussical,” Hysterium in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum — St. Louis Theater Circle Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Musical in 2017), has brought a sunny outlook to his productions here.

The director of “Matilda” 2019, Annie” 2018, “The Wizard of Oz” 2016, “Disney’s Tarzan” in 2014 and “Shrek” 2013 is again inspired by the tasks at hand, no doubt influencing his creative choices.

Photo by Phillip Hamer

A crackerjack production team has delivered an attractive look and encouraged high spirits throughout, even with performers dealing with oppressive summer heat. Music Director Brad Haak and Choreographer Patrick O’Neill focused on peppy musical and dance numbers for fluid movement (with a high percentage of youngsters in the audience).

The sights — Paige Hathaway’s production design, Robin L. McGee’s costume design, Kelley Jordan’s wig design and Alex Basco Koch’s video designs are true to the 1910 time of Edwardian London, but with pizzazz.

It’s also nice to see such local treasures as Zoe Vonder Haar (as Mrs. Brill), Whit Reichert (as Admiral Boom/Bank Chairman), Jerry Vogel (as Park Keeper, Von Hussle, ensemble), Rich Pisarkiewicz (Policeman/ensemble), and Lynn Humphrey (Miss Lark/ensemble) back together on the Muny stage.

Does “Mary Poppins” have the same appeal to today’s youths like the movie did for my generation? Not sure if it is a home run as much for them as it is for adults. Nevertheless, the audience left humming a happy tune.

Photo by Phillip Hamer

The Muny presents the musical “Mary Poppins” July 5-13 at 8:15 pm. on the outdoor stage in Forest Park. For more information, visit www.muny.org.

Cast photo by Philip Hamer

By Lynn Venhaus

OK Boomer, this is not your generation’s “Camelot.” And this modern fresh spin on the fabled Arthurian legend is exhilarating.

For fans of the 1960 original – which has been revised multiple times through the years – rest assured that the lush romantic score, with lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe, is elegantly executed and unforgettable.

Music Director Abdul Hamid Royal, who did outstanding work last year on “Smokey Joe’s Café,” makes sure the new orchestrations by Steve Orich are luxurious.

You’ll recognize the principal characters and knights’ tale of chivalry from the previous eight productions staged at the Muny, the last one in 2009. While respecting the legacy, this revamp is inspired, finding shining moments in unexpected ways.

Lilting voices, innovative movements, enchanting performances, adventurous looks, and British folklore told with conviction are lasting impressions. Therefore, embracing the changes is a risk worth taking.

The bold, muscular re-imagining by director Matt Kunkel, and leaner book adaptation by David Lee frame King Arthur’s visionary quest as a performance tale.

The rise and fall of Arthur’s kingdom are told by a troupe of revelers, not unlike the traveling minstrels in a 16th century William Shakespeare comedy.

It is their stylized retelling, not presented as a Merlin flashback.  Lee has cut Arthur’s magician mentor Merlin, only referenced in his dialogue, the song “Follow Me,” and King Pellinore is gone too.

The unnecessary sorceress Morgan Le Fey and her clunky number “The Persuasion” has been removed before, notably from the 1967 film adaptation and the 1980 Broadway revival, so that’s no surprise.

Lee, an Emmy-winning writer of ‘Cheers,” “Frasier” and “Wings,” has strengthened the relationships between King Arthur, Guenevere, and Lancelot. And injected wit where it needed it.

The prose’s power is conveyed in expertly crafted scenes of torment, loyalty, devotion, longing, and love between the principals. Kunkel keeps the pace lively, and the staging dynamic, especially between the trio, creating intimacy and distance by varying different configurations on the tiered set.

Of course, it must be daunting to fill shoes once worn by Richard Burton, who won a Tony as King Arthur, superstar Julie Andrews, who owned the ‘60s as the queen of musicals, and dashing Robert Goulet, whose career skyrocketed after his stunning debut. But lyrically, the Broadway veterans who are now this principal trio are well-suited for the challenge.

As engaging as he was as John Adams in “1776” in 2019 and Dr. Frederick Frankenstein in “Young Frankenstein” in 2016, Robert Petkoff strikes the right tone – from uncertain to courageous – for Arthur’s growth. He’s impressively powerful in ending Act I. His voice is strong and clear, and you feel his passion for his Knights of the Round Table mission.

In the first years of their marriage, Petkoff depicts a playful, mutual respectful relationship with his queen, Guenevere, and Sheeren Pimentel, showcasing an exquisite soprano, plays the grand lady as an outspoken equal. They’re lively together in “What Do the Simple Folk Do?” and their initial meeting is charming.

How can you not be swept away by Arthur’s description of his paradisal home, “Camelot”?

His vision is to uphold honor and justice, but not pillage for power. And he convinces others to join his noble cause, with “Might for Right” a rallying cry.

After Guenevere and Lancelot are helpless to ignore their growing feelings for each other, Pimentel soars in “Before I Gaze at You Again” and “I Loved You Once in Silence.”

You might not feel the lightning bolt attraction between Pimentel and Brandon S. Chu, but their vocal virtuosity helps propel the story. Chu doesn’t have the typical stature of a swaggering, very self-confident Lancelot, but the delivery of the signature song, “If Ever I Would Leave You” – is a definite “Wow.” His crystal tenor is piercing.

Chu, rocking the blue leather, is fierce in battle, and his physicality is a plus in the frenzied action sequences. Pimentel demonstrates her mettle, too, as Guenevere fights off the first wave of captors.

Fight choreographer Erik Gratton has effectively staged smooth action scenes without any fussiness. He was assisted by fight captain Jacob Guzman, and the precise movements are robust.

The cinematic leather-and-lace look is another important aspect, and Tristan Raines’ costume design has elements of Game of Thrones, Mad Max, boy band outfits, and dancewear combined for a vivid tableau. He has dispensed with tights and armor — and given serious thought to more summer-friendly garb.

That aids character movement considerably, for the revelers and courtiers can re-enact battles and seamlessly ramp up the palace and political intrigue.

The vitality bursts through, for the energy of this diverse and inclusive cast is noteworthy. And let’s not forget that fun is a part of the show, too.

One of the merriest high points is “The Lusty Month of May” ensemble number, bursting with bright colors and a magical transformation, showcasing the creative minds of Raines, costuming his sixth show at The Muny, and choreographer Beth Crandall, who has teamed with director Kunkel on last year’s “The Sound of Music” and “Matilda” in 2019. Their collaboration is a fruitful one.

But alas, the empire is not built for endurance. Something wicked this way comes in the second act, when Arthur’s conniving illegitimate son, Mordred, arrives, played with diabolical glee by Barrett Riggins. He’s a recognizable toad with mischievous intent to incite, leading the cast in a spirited “The Seven Deadly Virtues.” He divides the court through innuendo and misinformation, a cancer on Arthur’s reign.

The splintered knights grow angrier in the emphatic “Fie on Goodness,” a rebuke of Arthur’s principled ideals. With the Round Table broken and relationships in tatters, a forlorn Arthur ultimately forgives. He is given hope through the eyes of a child, believed to be Sir Tom of Warwick, captivatingly played by a charming Riley Carter Adams, and her wide-eyed enthusiasm is contagious.

Do not expect any kind of accent to be discernable here, in case you are waiting for it.

The ancient mythology setting is visually reworked with a striking scenic design by Ann Beyersdorfer – an earthier palette instead of regal trappings.

The neo-medieval realism is further enhanced through atmospheric video work by Kaylee Loera, best used to show the joust action between Lancelot and Sirs Dinadin (Evan Ruggiero) and Lionel (Daryl Tofa), and Ser Sagramore (Sarah Quinn Taylor).

The lighting design by Shelby Loera, who returns after making history last summer as the first female to be in charge of lighting a show at the Muny, is stunning. The sound is perfect as well, with John Shivers and David Patridge excelling in this show.

The opting for grit over opulence is jarring to traditionalists, who want their “Camelot” to be the sentimental journey they remember. Change is challenging, to be fair. I’ve often thought the old book was too lumbering and dense. All those soliloquys! So I was fine with the slicker adaptation.

Boomers are intrinsically linked to the JFK mythology, as he was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963, and in an interview in December in “Life” Magazine, his widow, Jackie, said the original cast recording of “Camelot” was a favorite of her husband’s, and he liked to listen to it before bedtime.

The show was then on a national tour, and a grief-stricken nation clung to the imagery of an especially hopeful time tragically cut short. His presidency has been referred to as “The Camelot Era,” and the lyric “One brief shining moment” used to define that fleeting period.

Expectations always run high, as musicals are very personal to people. What is someone’s favorite, such as “Cats,” can be annoying to another, and so on — we could go down a very long list.

I have fond memories of seeing Richard Harris play King Arthur on the Muny stage and with Robert Goulet, who filled that role on a national tour at the Fox. But those are long ago in the rearview mirror.

The planned revival, set for Broadway later this year, is to feature a book by Aaron Sorkin and direction by Bartlett Sher, so it will be interesting what the wunderkinds reimagine. Previews are expected in November, with opening Dec. 8. (Sorkin and Sher teamed up for the “To Kill a Mockingbird” reboot in 2019, which was one of the best productions I’ve ever seen, so I’m ready to see how they view this classic).

Fantasy gives more leeway to storytellers, after all. “Camelot” itself is based on the 1958 book, “The Once and Future King” by T.H. White, but this production also references Thomas Mallory’s “Le Morte d’Arthur” from the 15th century and Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “Idylls of the King” in the 19th century.

In Tennyson’s 12 narrative poems, published between 1859 and 1885, he retells the legend, the Knights of the Round Table, Guenevere and her betrayal.

The based-on folklore setting is typically around the 12th century, during the Middle Ages. Arthur’s realm is said to have taken place in the fifth century, after he defeated the Saxons.

The facts surrounding the Arthurian Legend – long revered for its golden age of peace and prosperity — have been disputed for years. But the inaccurate historical context hasn’t halted the mythology furthered by literary conventions. (Who remembers Disney’s 1963 animated film “The Sword in the Stone” during childhood?).

In this post “Hamilton” world, artists will keep pushing the envelope, and what audiences push back on will be varied. I thought on a gorgeous summer evening (Thursday, June 23), Forest Park could not be a more congenial spot to continue the Muny’s happily-ever-aftering here.

As the Muny moves forward in this second century, it is ever mindful of an obligation to art, entertainment, artists, and audience. That’s a tough balancing act sometimes, but I’m confident in the way they are leading into the future with dedicated purpose. And that music was sure persuasive under the stars.

The Muny presents “Camelot’ each evening from June 22 to June 28 at 8:15 p.m. on its stage in Forest Park. For more information, visit www.muny.org. For tickets, contact the Muny box office or visit Metrotix.

Photos by Phillip Hamer

On Friday, The Muny celebrated the successful completion of its Second Century Capital Campaign, raising over $100 million securing the future of the historic theatre in Forest Park. A lively garden party welcomed invited guests to the new donor plaza and dedication of the donor wall commemorating the contributions of the community. Last November, Steward Family Foundation and The Centene Charitable Foundation provided the lead gifts from the closing group of donors.

“The Muny is a cultural pillar in this community—serving as a home for celebration, entertainment, commonality and opportunity. The team boldly embarked on a campaign to ensure its future for generations with the faith that realizing this goal would be possible. Steward Family Foundation is proud to share our blessing and bring to fruition all that the future of The Muny promises,” said David Steward, Founder and Chairman of World Wide Technology.”

“The realization of this campaign goal guarantees that the tradition of musical theatre for and by the people of St. Louis will remain for generations yet to be born. It allows us to continue to evolve both our physical campus and the scope of opportunity and experience we provide,” said Muny President & CEO Kwofe Coleman. “I am immensely grateful to everyone whose work and leadership made this possible and to the generous donors who have made our future a reality. On behalf of The Muny, thank you.

“This is a historic and monumental accomplishment for this theatre and our community,” said Muny Artistic Director and Executive Producer Mike Isaacson. “The $100 Million goal – dream, really – was wildly ambitious and unprecedented.  Because of the hard work, faith and generosity of so many, The Muny can continue to be “Alone In Its Greatness.”

“Reaching our $100 million goal was extremely important to me. Knowing that the final $10 million included gifts to honor my retirement was more than heartwarming. I’m proud, not only of the work we did but also of what this campaign has done and will make possible for The Muny for years to come.” said Muny President Emeritus Denny Reagan. 

“Throughout this campaign, we have seen incredible generosity on full display and this successful final push to the goal was a remarkable testament of our community’s love for the theatre’s history and an investment in its future.” said Board and Campaign Chair Jim Turley. “It was also important to all of us that we completed this campaign in time to honor the unbelievable amount of work Denny put into the campaign and to recognize the legacy of excellence and stability he established.” 

In addition to Steward Family Foundation and The Centene Charitable Foundation, the final group of gifts included support from the Bardol Chervitz Families, the Coleman Family, Donald Fassold, the Finerty Family Foundation, David Hogan, Mike Isaacson & Joe Ortmeyer, the Johnston Family Fund, Tim & Elizabeth Kertz, Ned & Sally Lemkemeier, Mr. & Mrs. William Scheffel and Mary & Joseph Stieven.

Launched in 2018 during The Muny’s centennial season, the Second Century Capital Campaign was a $100 million fundraising effort to fund major capital improvements including a complete rebuild of the Muny stage, the support, maintenance and upkeep of its 11.5-acre campus, and to build the theatre’s endowment, which supports The Muny’s ever-growing education and outreach programs. The endowment not only ensures a future of financial accessibility for The Muny’s community programs but also allows the outdoor theatre to respond to unforeseen events.

Transformational leadership gifts of $20 million made by Mr. & Mrs. James S. McDonnell III, and the Enterprise Holdings Foundation and the Taylor & Kindle families top an extensive list of supporters including the closing group announced above.


The Muny announced today that Ben DavisCarmen Cusack and Robert Cuccioliwill star in the musical thriller, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, July 16-22, 2022.

The Muny Premiere is directed by Rob Ruggiero, with musical staging by associate director Jessica Hartman, music direction by James Moore and Michael Horsley serving as associate music director. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is proudly sponsored by Missouri Lottery.

“These extraordinary artists in these iconic roles will be thrilling,” said Muny Artistic Director and Executive Producer Mike Isaacson. “I cannot wait to see them our Muny premiere of this musical masterpiece.”

Ben Davis

BEN DAVIS (Sweeney Todd) Muny: 1776Guys and DollsJesus Christ SuperstarOklahoma!; Spamalot and South Pacific.

Tony Honor (Ensemble) for his work in Baz Luhrmann’s Broadway production of La Bohème (Marcello).

NYC: Lady in the Dark (NY City Center Encores!), Call Me Madam opposite Carmen Cusack, Dear Evan Hansen, Violet, A Little Night Music, Les Misérables and Thoroughly Modern Millie.

National tour: The Sound of Music and Spamalot. Other favorites include Kiss Me, Kate for the BBC at London’s Royal Albert Hall and Kurt Weill’s Knickerbocker Holiday opposite Kelli O’Hara and Victor Garber at Lincoln Center (recorded live) and in concert opposite Ms. O’Hara with Ted Sperling.

TV/Film: NBC’s Annie Live!Chicago Fire, Law & Order: SVUWoman in the Window, Boogie, The Magic Flute (directed by Kenneth Branagh), A Hand of Bridge, Blue Bloods, 30 Rock and Numb3rs.

Concerts: Philly Pops, RTÉ Orchestra, Tanglewood, Caramoor and many others.

Davis has been nominated for three St. Louis Theater Circle Awards — for “South Pacific,” “Oklahoma” and “Jesus Christ, Superstar.” at the Muny.

Carmen Cusack

CARMEN CUSACK (Mrs. Lovett) Broadway: Steve Martin and Edie Brickell’s Bright Star (Tony Award nomination), Flying Over Sunset (Clare Boothe Luce).

Streaming/Film: Facebook series, Sorry For Your Loss (recurring opposite Janet McTeer and Elizabeth Olsen), TriStar’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (opposite Tom Hanks).

Cusack studied opera at the University of North Texas, which gave her its first honorary baccalaureate degree in 2018

ROBERT CUCCIOLI (Judge Turpin) Muny: 42nd Street. Broadway: Jekyll & Hyde (Tony Award nomination, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, FANY and Chicago’s Joseph Jefferson Awards), Les Misérables and Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.

Some favorite off-Broadway credits include A Touch of the Poet, The White Devil, Caesar and Cleopatra (Caesar), And the World Goes ‘Round (Outer Critics Circle Award), Rothschild & Sons (London’s Offie nomination), Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris and White Guy on The Bus.

Robert Cuccioli

Robert has performed at such notable regional theatres as The Guthrie, Paper Mill Playhouse, The Shakespeare Theatre of NJ, Shakespeare Theatre Company (Lorenzaccio, Helen Hayes nomination), McCarter Theatre Center, George Street Playhouse, Ford’s Theatre (1776, Helen Hayes nomination).

Television: The Sinner, Elementary, White Collar, Sliders, Baywatch, Guiding Light. Film: Celebrity, The Stranger, The Rest of Us, Impossible Monsters, Columbus on Trial.

About the show:
The Broadway legend and American musical masterpiece makes its Muny debut. Set in 19th century London, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street has captivated audiences around the world with its murderous melodies and a haunting tale of love, revenge and hilarious mayhem.

Considered to be one of composer Stephen Sondheim’s greatest showpieces, this eight-time Tony Award-winning musical offers both thrills and laughs and is guaranteed to be an unforgettable night at The Muny.
 
The Telsey Office is the official casting partner for The Muny. Full casting will be announced at a later date.

The Muny’s 2022 Season includes Chicago (June 13-19), Lerner and Loewe’s Camelot (June 22-28), Disney and Cameron Macintosh’s Mary Poppins (July 5-13), Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (July 16-22), Legally Blonde, The Musical (July 25-31), The Color Purple (August 3-9) and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (August 12-18).

Season tickets are currently on sale. Single tickets will be available beginning May 23. Muny gift cards for the 104th season are now available online and at The Muny Box Office. For more information, visit muny.org or call (314) 361-1900