Under the stars in Forest Park, the lights will soon go up on another memorable season of musicals created exclusively for The Muny’s storied stage. “There really is nothing like it in the world,” says Muny executive producer and artistic director Mike Isaacson.
As the nation’s oldest and largest outdoor theater presents its new season, it at once will unveil a slate of improved features—namely, a set of rooftop solar panels for heightened energy-efficiency and a brand new theater truss system. “This will allow us to do even more imaginative work with our lighting and sets,” Isaacson notes. And as attendees experienced for the first time last season, the venue's new high-tech fans will replace St. Louis’ hot summer nights with a cooler, quiet breeze flowing through the open-air theater during the live shows.
In The Muny's signature style, audiences are in for a humorous, heartfelt season of seven shows, starting with its debut of Billy Elliot the Musical (June 16-22), a powerful, passionate father-son story, featuring incredible music by Elton John and appearances by the Gateway Men’s Chorus. “We’re the first theater after Broadway to do the show,” Isaacson notes. “And it has some some of the most extraordinary dancing you've ever seen.” The fun continues with Tarzan (June 25-July 2), another family-focused narrative about the boundaries of love, with beautiful music by Phil Collins. “Tarzan will fly and swing all over the Muny stage!” Isaacson says.
And for the first time, a touring company will perform at The Muny as it presents The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess (July 7-13). “It will be magical to hear that music under the stars and trees of The Muny,” Isaacson says. Next, the quirky humor of The Addams Family (July 14-20) will take the theater’s stage. “Daughter Wednesday is getting married—and horror of horrors, she’s going to marry a nice boy from Ohio,” Isaacson explains. “It raises questions, such as what is a family; and it’s—at times—fall-on-the-ground funny.”
The season continues with a slew of Dr. Seuss characters—from the Cat in the Hat to Horton Hears a Who—in Seussical (July 22-28). And Grease (July 31-Aug. 8) “will have people dancing in the aisles as a brilliant young cast of knockouts storm the stage,” Isaacson notes. Closing the year will be stage classic Hello Dolly! (Aug. 11-17), 50 years after it opened on Broadway.
While the audience takes in The Muny’s shows each summer season, the work never actually stops year-round, Isaacson notes. “It takes 10 months to do 10 weeks. The planning for every season really begins the second the last season ends.” For this 97th anniversary season, that meant jump-starting preparations in early fall with the show selection process, which involves considering audience surveys and researching available shows. Next, The Muny assembles the artistic teams of directors, choreographers, set designers, musical arrangers and more that are unique to each show every season. By late fall, Isaacson says it’s time for the 'big-picture' conversation: “We talk about, what is the show on The Muny stage; what is it for The Muny audience; and what is the story we’re telling?” Then, in January, 5,000 performers auditioned for 200 parts, and the teams continued work on writing ideas, set designs and “everything that makes the shows exciting, magical and interesting.”
A St. Louis tradition, The Muny is the city’s theater, Isaacson says. “There’s a sense of pride and a sense of real joy, because this is ours,” he notes. “I always say: The Muny is the best fringe benefit of living in St. Louis.” And the community seems to agree. “What was very moving to me last year was that the audience really embraced everything we were doing and told us they were genuinely excited to come.” From the performers to the backstage staff and office, delivering a successful season is an obligation everyone at The Muny takes very seriously, Isaacson says. “When you come here, we’re going to give you everything we’ve got.”