The banners for this summer’s shows are flying in the springtime breeze as The Muny awakes from its annual hibernation. There is even more anticipation for opening night than in years past, as Mike Isaacson makes his debut as the new executive producer.
The 47-year-old former top executive at the Fox Theatre has been preparing for his new role since even before last year’s opening night. He brought me in to the theater’s ‘war room,’ and I was sworn to secrecy about some of the details I would see: The photos of potential cast members are posted to the walls with the names of the shows above, with Isaacson studying every person to make sure the right actor is cast in the right part. When we sit down to talk, his passion is obvious, but he always speaks with great joy about the thrill of the days ahead.
LN: What makes The Muny so special in your eyes?
MI: Unlike any theater in the country, you can look around The Muny and the audience is 8 to 80. Do you know how great that is? It’s fantastic! So the monumental challenge of The Muny is that it remains there for everybody.
LN: What was one of the major factors that helped you decide to move from the Fox to the Muny?
MI: One of the reasons for taking this on—and it is a huge challenge—is that I really, really love the city. I’ve been here since 1982 (since I came here for college). The people are remarkable, and The Muny is part of our lives. For me, understanding and celebrating that is important.
LN: You have such an extensive history of working in Broadway and Broadwaytype theaters. How difficult is it to translate Broadway-style shows onto this giant stage?
MI: That’s the joy of the challenge. Whether you’re on a Broadway stage or The Muny stage, you begin with the same principle: What is the story, what is the truth of the characters, and how do we find the performers and the world to support that story? You have moments on our stage here because there is a poetry that we can achieve because we don’t have a roof, but instead, we have trees and stars. So the goal is not to make it look like Broadway. What we’ve got is what we’ve got, so how do we make it magical in this environment—and that’s delicious!
LN: Are you going to really wow us in your first year?
MI: I don’t know if wow is the right word but I hope people see that everybody here really cares about producing a great show. When they walk out, I want them to think, They really knocked it out of the park for us—that’s what I want. And that’s not just me, that’s everybody—it’s that sense of passion and commitment to our work.
LN: What do you think are going to be the biggest highlights of the season?
MI: Were going to have Jennifer Holiday recreating her iconic performance as Effie in Dreamgirls. We’re going to have Leslie Uggams on our stage solo singing Only New York. We’ll have an American Idol star, Justin Guarini, starring in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. We’re going to have Chicago with its incredible choreography, as well as The King and I and Pirates!, which is going to a big surprise because it’s so funny.
LN: Are you going to come out on stage and speak to the audience on opening night the way Paul Blake did every year?
MI: Yes, and it’s going to be hard—it will be an overwhelming night.
LN: You’re very emotional talking about this.
MI: It’s not about me; it’s about The Muny. The Muny matters, The Muny matters. And (pauses to collect himself) it’s a beautiful opportunity and a heavy weight. We live in a time when people don’t care about a lot, but they care about The Muny.