The Muny in 2019 - Second Century, Act One
Photos Provided By The Muny
Written By Johnny Fugitt
2018 was special for The Muny as the St. Louis summer staple celebrated its 100th season. “Each night you just felt the audience - besides enjoying the show - celebrate the idea of The Muny,” remembers Mike Isaacson, Artistic Director and Executive Producer.
“What’s extraordinary about The Muny in St. Louis is there’s nothing like it anywhere else in the world,” he continues. “And this community has supported it and treasured it and made it part of its life for 101 years. It’s both ritual and celebration and a beautiful way to spend your summer. I think it speaks to one of the best parts of St. Louis, its history and its culture.”
2019 isn’t simply an encore performance, it’s the beginning of a new chapter. Extensive renovations this offseason include a new stage to showcase the 2019 lineup. “I like to believe that no matter who you are in St. Louis,” says Isaacson, “you look across those seven shows and that there’s at least one where you say ‘I definitely want to see that.’”
The season includes some classics as it kicks off with Guys and Dolls and later includes Paint Your Wagon and 1776, performed in Forest Park for the first time in two decades. “One thing I’ve learned about The Muny audience is that they love a great drama,” says Isaacson. “They love a great story and they’ll go to the heart of it.”
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella is sure to fill the seats and The Muny premiere of Matilda, with the special touch of St. Louis artist Mary Engelbreit, will fascinate imaginative young minds and inspire older audiences alike. Eighties flair returns with Footloose, but probably the most anticipated show of the season is Kinky Boots. Following its highly successful run on Broadway and national tour, The Muny is the first theater to produce the musical based on the 2005 British film by the same name. Jerry Mitchell, the St. Louisan who won a Tony for Best Choreography with Kinky Boots, and was also nominated for his role as Director, isn’t this show’s only tie to St. Louis.
Returning to The Muny is one of Broadway’s hottest stars – Taylor Louderman. Nominated for a Tony in 2018 for her biting role as Regina in Mean Girls, the Sullivan graduate returns to a place that inspired her years ago. Her first memory of The Muny was The Sound of Music. “I could feel the magic as soon as we got out of the car. It was the same feeling I had walking into Disney World; there is a spirit surrounding that place that always lifts me up and inspires me. I knew I wanted to be a part of it one day.”
The Muny regulars have seen Louderman over the years in various shows, but her step into the national spotlight came with the role of Lauren in Broadway’s Kinky Boots. The Muny’s audience will not only see a homegrown star return to perform this summer, but also watch her in one of the shows that helped make her career, a show holding a special place in the performer’s heart. “Kinky Boots actually helped me discover my passion for comedy,” says Louderman. “I didn’t think people would embrace my comedic efforts until I heard laughter my first night on Broadway.”
The show’s message also resonates with Louderman. “Kinky Boots is a story about two very different ways of life finding common ground. I believe empathy is one of the most powerful tools storytelling has given me. This show hits intolerance on the head. It forces you to see the humanity in the victims of our prejudices whatever they may be. And then it turns around and celebrates everyone! The audience walks away with an open heart. The residual effects of that radiate for a while.”
It's not just the messages of the shows on stage that impact the community as the organization offers a number of educational programs aimed at aspiring artists. The umbrella of programming includes a newer initiative, Make a Musical, aimed at under-resourced communities. The Muny Kids and Muny Teens performance troupes offer aspiring youth actors the opportunity to hone their skills, connect with the St. Louis theatrical community and perform across the city and region. T3, the Technical Theatre Training Program, mentors high school students interested in out-of-the-spotlight theater careers. “The Muny is a St. Louis tradition and by serving the community they have, in turn, been wonderfully supported by it,” says Louderman.
In addition to the special place The Muny holds in Louderman’s story and her appreciation for the message of Kinky Boots, she’s also looking forward to getting a little time closer to friends and family. She may have made it big on Broadway, but Louderman hasn’t forgotten where she came from. Just to confirm, I had to ask if she prefers St. Louis or New York-style pizza. “Don’t tell New York, but I prefer St. Louis everything,” she says with a smile.
From the return of cherished favorite shows to the star-studded “first” of Kinky Boots, 2019 promises to be another memorable season for The Muny. “Last year we celebrated history, this year we’re going to make history,” says Isaacson. “Going into our second century with our new stage and everything we’re doing, there’s such a sense of Renaissance, and renewal, and excitement that will define itself on its own terms.”