Each summer Broadway directors, choreographers and performers, college students from around the country and local St. Louis actors descend upon The Municipal Theatre Association of St. Louis (The Muny), rehearsing each production for just eleven short days, including one night of Tech rehearsal, and a final “Sweat Tech” in the warm summer sun before opening each show. As is the case with any outdoor theater, the majestic venue isn’t without its challenges; rain delays and cancellations, bugs biting you through your costume, and even the occasional raccoon onstage. Yet it all makes The Muny a unique experience that many actors lovingly compare to musical theatre summer camp!
As a theatre nerd growing up in St. Louis, MO, there was no better way to spend a summer evening than watching a musical under the stars with 11,000 of your closest friends at The Muny. It is a tradition that dates back to 1917, one I was lucky to be a part of as a member of the Ensemble of Beauty And The Beast in this, its 97th season!
Plans for the construction of what is now America’s oldest and largest outdoor theater began in 1916 when an outdoor production of As You Like It by acclaimed actress Margaret Anglin’s Shakespeare troupe was proposed. A grassy clearing between two towering oak trees (which still stand today!) was chosen, excess shrubs were cleared, and a retaining wall was built to house the production. It featured, along with Ms. Anglin, famed Shakespearean actors Robert Mantell and Sidney Greenstreet and close to 1,000 local folk singers and dancers marking the 300th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.
Since 1919 when the theatre received its official name The Muny has played host to stars of both stage and screen. The 1957 production of The Wizard of Oz featured Margaret Hamilton reprising her role as the Wicked Witch. Betty White made her Muny debut in 1961 as Lili in Take Me Along and Lauren Bacall graced the stage in Applause (1971) and Wonderful Town (1977).
My connection to The Muny began in 1994 when my parents took me to see Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, and although I fell asleep halfway through Act 2, (hey, give a kid a break!) I couldn’t stop talking about the show for the rest of the week. As a kid, I spent five summers as a part of the youth ensemble and the Muny Kids and Teens touring groups. The first time I stepped on that massive stage as one of about 50 mice in Cinderella, I knew that I had found my passion. It is only now, looking back on the experience that I realize how lucky I was to watch and learn from the up and coming young people in the Equity ensemble and the established New York actors (Kate Baldwin, Lisa Howard, and Robert Westenberg, to name just a few) that made up each cast.
Backstage during Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, 2006
Backstage during Beauty And The Beast in her "Sausage Curl Girl" costume
Returning to The Muny this summer was a dream come true; Beauty And The Beast marked my first Muny production as a professional Equity actor, and having appeared as one of about 100 kids in the Muny’s premier of the show back in 2005 made the experience extra special for me. I am so grateful to be a part of the magic and history that is The Muny.
Hannah as a Broom during "Be Our Guest"
Photo Credit: Philip Hammer