Story: How big is The Muny? Artistic Director/Executive Producer Mike Isaacson writes in his program notes for Jerome Robbins’ Broadway that “The Jerome Robbins Foundation blessed this crazy idea early on, and all of the estates of the writers you see listed on the title page...granted the permissions that allowed this production to exist.
“The Shubert Foundation archives in New York gave us access to long lost orchestrations and music charts, and the Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts helped us piece together other essential information.”
“This crazy idea” to which Isaacson refers is The Muny’s ambitious decision to kick off its centennial season with the first production in the world of Jerome Robbins’ Broadway since its inception on Broadway in 1989, when it won five Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
That Broadway effort was directed and choreographed by Robbins, one of the titans in the entertainment industry in the 20th century, both for his direction and choreography of musicals as well as his legendary mark on the world of ballet. This revue incorporates songs and dance numbers from several of Robbins’ biggest Broadway hits, including Fiddler on the Roof, West Side Story, The King and I, High Button Shoes and On the Town.
Robbins’ collaborators on such shows were luminaries such as Irving Berlin, Leonard Bernstein, Jerry Bock, Sammy Cahn, Betty Comden, Larry Gelbart, Adolph Green, Oscar Hammerstein II, Sheldon Harnick, Arthur Laurents, Richard Rodgers, Stephen Sondheim and Jule Styne. Not a bad roster, eh?
Highlights: The talents of 50 dazzling performers on stage are brought to the fore by renowned director and Robbins disciple Cynthia Onrubia and a cavalcade of technical artists to usher in The Muny’s centennial season in high-kicking, flamboyant fashion.
Other Info: Isaacson explains in his notes why Jerome Robbins’ Broadway hasn’t been staged since its Broadway run and subsequent national tour: “(T)his show is daunting in scope and size, as well as the talent it requires. It demands the sort of resources, dedication and collaboration that few theatres can offer – but The Muny can. It also requires from its audience a bit of experience of American musical theatre history.”
In other words, it’s a show which encapsulates what The Muny has meant to its millions of patrons over the last century: A chance to see top-notch musical theater entertainment in the historically magnificent Muny outdoor amphitheater. Monday evening’s opening- night audience even included performer Sarah Bowden’s mother, who journeyed from Australia to see her daughter perform on The Muny stage after her earlier appearance at The Hollywood Bowl (“This is bigger,” said Sarah’s ‘mum’).
Onrubia worked on the original production of Jerome Robbins’ Broadway as well as many other Broadway shows. She is, says Isaacson, “an icon...(who) worked with Robbins, Bob Fosse, Michael Bennett, Rob Marshall and many more greats.” Onrubia knows the source material for this revue and, as a result, The Muny stage reverberates with one memorable dance routine after another.
Chris Bailey, who directed and choreographed the 2017 season finale, Newsies, and whose first Broadway show debuts later this summer, is production supervisor for this mammoth undertaking and Michael Horsley serves as music director. Bailey pieces together the myriad expert technical touches on the show while Horsley’s orchestra enlivens the dances with rousing musical support from the pit.
Together they help make this pastiche of magical Robbins moments segue smoothly through two acts and a dozen numbers culled from On the Town (1944), Billion Dollar Baby (1945), High Button Shoes (1947), West Side Story (1957), The King and I (1951), Peter Pan (1954), Miss Liberty (1949), Call Me Madam (1950) and Fiddler on the Roof (1964).
Paige Hathaway’s scenic design opens and closes with a Manhattan skyline to welcome three sailors living up a 24-hour leave “On the Town,” and also creatively underscores numbers set in the Roaring Twenties, 19th century Russia or even the back streets of New York City for West Side Story. Each of those settings is richly embellished with Nathan W. Scheuer’s imaginative and descriptive video designs.
Robin L. McGee contributes a season’s supply of sumptuous, stylish costumes which augment each of the routines, while John Lasiter’s lighting can be focused on a sexy chanteuse (Jenny Powers warbling Mr. Monotony) or pinpointing the brilliant Robbins choreography on numbers as diverse as The Small House of Uncle Thomas from The King and I to a suite of dances from West Side Story, accentuating Robbins’ love for ballet.
Harrison Beal, Dan Knechtges and Ralph Perkins offer their considerable talents in contributing to the exhaustive and continually impressive choreography, John Metzner furnishes the wig designs which cover multiple decades and the smart sound design is the work of John Shivers & David Patridge.
As for the performers, highlights include that sizzling Mr. Monotony number shaped handsomely by Powers, which is followed by an arresting ballet featuring Alexa De Barr being wooed first by a ‘trombonist’ danced by Sean Rozanski and then the more seductive clarinet player performed by Garen Scribner. Music and lyrics are by Irving Berlin, dance music arranged by Genevieve Pitot and staging by Robbins.
Muny favorite Rob McClure heads the cast as the show’s ‘setter,’ who introduces the various numbers and performs in several as well. The highly energized and accomplished cast includes Lindsay Bell, Jessica Bishop, Sarah Bowden, Peter Chursin, Kyle Coffman, Whitney Cooper, Darien Crago, Lauren Csete, Gabriel Cytron, Alexa De Barr, Nicolas de la Vega, Sean Ewing, Jess Fry, Patrick Garr, Peter Garza, Berklea Going, Sean Harrison Jones, Leeds Hill, Sarah Marie Jenkins, Cole Joyce, Evan Kinnane, Maggie Lakis, Marina Lazzaretto, Brian Shimasaki Liebson, Chris Lingner, Robin Masella, Melissa Hunter McCann, Mitchell McCroskey, Connor McRory, Courtney Ortiz, Hillary Porter, Jenny Powers, Waldemar Quinones-Villanueva, Emilio Ramos, Drew Redington, Mariah Reives, Sean Rozanski, Kyle Samuel, Garen Scribner, Gabi Stapula, Elizabeth Teeter, Bethany Ann Tesarck, Tanairi Vazquez, Davis Wayne, Brandon L. Whitmore, Andrew Wilson, Victor Wisehart and Erica Wong.
There’s no story per se since this is a revue, so the show essentially is simply one number after another, albeit wrapped in that On the Town beginning and end. What better performing artist, though, than Jerome Robbins to exemplify what The Muny has been in its first hundred years and point the way to the next century?
Musical: Jerome Robbins’ Broadway
Company: The Muny
Venue: The Muny in Forest Park
Dates: Through June 17
Tickets: Free to $100; contact 314-534-1111 or metrotix.com
Rating: A 4.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Phillip Hamer and Eric Woolsey