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As The MUNY Opens Its 2014 Season, It Makes Plans To Preserve Its Future

The MUNY opened its 2014 season on Monday, June 16 with the first of seven scheduled shows. The offerings this summer include four premieres and the usual mix of classics, family shows and new productions.

Michael Isaacson, the MUNY’s artistic director and executive producer, appeared on Cityscape this week to give an overview of the season and talk about how the organization is gearing up for its 100th anniversary.

The MUNY’s 2014 season

Billy Elliot the Musical June 16 – 22

In its first U.S. production since the end of the Broadway tour, Billy Elliot has “gob-smacked” the audience said Isaacson, who described the musical as a “St. Louis story” despite being set in England.

“It’s a very powerful story about family, and what do we need to provide for our kids,” said Isaacson. “Billy’s in this town and the whole town is on strike. And everyone is really suffering. His mother has passed away and his father is sort of distant, so things are sort of unsettled. And here’s this young boy, and they discover he has this freakish talent like no one has ever seen before.”

Tarzan June 25 – July 2

Based on the Disney movie, Tarzan features the award-winning music by Phil Collins.

“It’s sort of our father and son season,” said Isaacson, referring back to Billy Elliot. “Tarzan is adopted into this family, and what we find is the mother wants to keep this as her child and the father is saying this child can eventually kill us. And it’s also very funny.”

Porgy and Bess July 7 – 13

“That music, that Gershwin score is arguably one of the greatest works of the last century,” said Isaacson. “It hasn’t been in the MUNY since the late 80s. Our hallmark is we produce everything for this stage, but this is actually the national tour of the recent Broadway production.”

The Addams Family July 14 – 20

“This is sort of the stealth show of the season,” said Isaacson. “It basically does the Addams Family version of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Wednesday, their sort of goth, gaunt daughter, has met a nice boy from Ohio.”

Rob McClure and Jenny Powers, who played Bert and Mary in the MUNY’s production of Mary Poppins last year, are returning as Gomez and Morticia.

Seussical July 22 – 28

“This is sort of our big kid’s show of the season,” said Isaacson. “It tells the story of basically, Horton Hears a Who. It’s a playful, fun show and it asks us all to use our imagination.”

Grease July 31 – August 8

“It’s an iconic movie, an incredibly popular show in MUNY history,” said Isaacson. “And at this point in Grease’s life you have to sort of celebrate Grease as you’re doing it because everyone just loves it.”

Hello Dolly August 11 – 17

“This is actually the 50th anniversary of the show’s opening on Broadway, so it’s so great to do it this year,” said Isaacson. “We have the unbelievable, incomparable Beth Leavel as our Dolly. She was here last year in Nunsense, Tony Award winner, brilliant actress and comedian. And she is going to be joined by John O’Hurley from Seinfeld fame, who was with us in Spamalot. He is going to play Horace Bandergelder.”

As a big outdoor theater, the MUNY can do things normal theaters cannot, said Isaacson. For example, they are bringing in a marching band for the parade in Hello Dolly.

He hopes that by including elements such as the marching band, the audience will appreciate how unique the MUNY is.

“I want that audience, I want St. Louis to sit there and know we have something that nobody else has in the world. This is ours, it is our treasure.  It is a civic treasure. It was created 96 years ago for this community.”

Preparing for 100 more years

The 100th anniversary of the MUNY is still four years away, but the organization is already thinking ahead to the event. The MUNY board has formed a planning committee and sought the help of the president of the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. to help them shape a vision for the future.

“We knew we were approaching a major milestone. I mean, major not only for us as an institution but in the context of American arts and American civic history,” said Isaacson.

As the oldest continuous outdoor musical theater in the United States, the MUNY wants to make sure it stays around for another 100 years.

“I’m incredibly passionate about this because there is literally nothing like the MUNY in the world, and I’m not even talking about the physical space,” said Isaacson. “A thousand free seats every night, when you look at the scope of people who are there, how going to the MUNY is a part of life here, it’s a part of who we are as St. Louisans. You don’t have that anywhere else.”

For more information about the 2014 season, visit the MUNY website.

Cityscape is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and sponsored in part by the Missouri Arts Council, the Regional Arts Commission, and the Arts and Education Council of Greater St. Louis.

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