© 2021 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Arts

Muny President Dennis Reagan Will Retire Next Year After 53-Year Career

Reagan, Denny & Patrons PC Phillip Hamer.jpg
Phillip Hamer
/
The Muny
Longtime Muny leader Dennis Reagan was the public face of the organization, greeting patrons at every show for decades.

Dennis Reagan will leave his job as president and CEO of the Muny in December 2021. He has led the organization since 1991 and is its longest-serving president.

“I’ve accomplished pretty much everything I wanted to accomplish,” said Reagan, 68. “I think we’re on a good trajectory right now.”

His roots at the outdoor theater in Forest Park stretch back to his days as a teenager on the cleanup crew in 1968. He’s held several jobs at the theater, including a stretch as general manager.

Reagan led the organization through extensive renovations to the Muny’s 11.5-acre facility, including the stage, concession stands and backstage facilities. Under his guidance, the Muny has raised more than $85 million toward a $100 million capital campaign launched in 2018.

The fundraising campaign has paid for some of the ongoing renovations and an enhancement to the organization’s endowment, which was created under Reagan’s watch.

The Arts and Education Council of St. Louis presented Reagan its Lifetime Achievement in the Arts Award in 2018.

“Denny has not only been a vital leader for The Muny, but also has been a pillar of the musical theatre field as a whole,” National Alliance for Musical Theatre Executive Director Betsy King Militello said in a statement.

The Muny is one of the oldest and most prominent arts organizations in the region, with an annual budget of more than $21 million. It would have presented its 102nd season this year, but leaders canceled its season because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Muny’s audience capacity of nearly 11,000 makes it the largest outdoor theater devoted to musical theater in the country.

The Muny has made it through the pandemic thus far in part because of corporate sponsors maintaining their financial commitments despite the season cancelation. The organization has not laid off any of its 33 year-round employees, though some 600 seasonal employees lost their summer work.

Reagan will continue his association with the theater in 2022 as senior adviser.

“So often people say they’ve given the best years of their life to their job,” he said. “But I gotta say, I’m a lucky guy, because my job has given me the best years of my life.”

Denny Reagan PC Phillip Hamer.jpg
Phillip Hamer
Dennis Reagan has overseen extensive renovations to the Muny's grounds and the launch of a successful capital campaign.

Reagan said that in the 1970s and ‘80s the theater shifted its focus from original productions of big-name musicals to booking visits by national tours.

“We went back to the roots of the Muny,” he said of his time at the helm, “which was producing shows for St. Louisans at the scale that only the Muny can do.”

The Muny’s large stage presents the opportunity to impress audiences with the sort of spectacle that a touring production wouldn’t muster.

“When we do ‘The Music Man’ we can have a 200-piece marching band onstage,” Reagan said. “When we do ‘Meet Me In St. Louis,’ we can have fireworks in the finale. We can actually put Clydesdales on the stage.”

A natural extrovert, Reagan enjoys the meet-and-greet part of his job.

He is known for standing in his customary spot near the stage and greeting audience members every single night of performance, since 1976 — except for the night of his brother’s wedding.

“I have enjoyed this so much, this job. It’s afforded me the chance to meet some incredible people,” Reagan said. “It’s afforded me the opportunity to meet the civic leaders of St. Louis and the industry leaders of theater. That’s something that I will cherish forever.”

The Muny’s board of directors has begun searching for a successor.

Ron Himes, founder and producing director of the Black Rep, described Reagan as “the nicest guy in theater.”

“He will be missed by his colleagues in the field and especially by his patrons who will miss him standing in his post every night before the curtain.”

Follow Jeremy on Twitter: @jeremydgoodwin

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.