St. Louis’ Summer Theater Al Fresco – The MUNY
St. Louis’ concept of outdoor theater began in 1914 when civic leader/mover and shaker Luther Ely Smith began staging pageants at Forest Park’s Art Hill. Successful pageants encouraged producers in 1916 to find another venue, selecting a grassy lawn between two giant oak trees where the MUNY now resides.
The first production, Shakespeare’s As You Like It, was preformed that year in honor of the Bard’s 300th anniversary of his death. A reported cast of folk dancers and singers numbering 1,000 took the stage. In spite of its huge success the theater found itself on shaky finance ground. To help raise awareness a door-to-door campaign was staged by then Mayor Kiel to save what would become the MUNY.
Successful efforts brought the newly formed St Louis Municipal Opera Association of St. Louis into existence in 1919, becoming the first municipally owned outdoor theatre in the U.S., which today seats 11,000 with its last nine rows (1500 seats) reserved as free seats open to anyone on a first come first serve basic.
The MUNY quickly became a preferred place for actors and artists to preform. Just review the MUNY’s alumni roles – it reads like a who’s who of Broadway and Hollywood. Its rolls also includes some of the 20th century’s finest producers and composers such as Richard Rogers. On the occasion of the MUNY”s 58th season Rogers wrote of his respect and affection for the theatre.
“ I am proud that over a dozen of my shows have been included over the years in its regular roster of musical offerings.” With out the MUNY (and other theaters like it)…there would be no vital lifeline between Broadway and the broad public …”
Rogers’ sentiment is shared today with those within the professional theater as well as St. Louis’ theatre/arts community.
Over its past 96 seasons the MUNY has continued to provide Broadway quality musical entertainment that has become an American original and a St. Louis tradition. This year’s productions include My Fair Lady, Hairspray, Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn, Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story, Into the Woods, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and Oklahoma. The Muny’s Tony Award winning artistic Director and Executive Producer Mike Issaacson produces each show locally. Bringing together a mix of performers from Broadway to hometown professionals – accompanied by the Muny’s renowned 27-member orchestra. The result: A season of one of a kind productions staged on the country’s largest outdoor stage that creates unforgettable nights of musical theater.
Enhancing the MUNY experience beyond the main stage show are its preshow concerts and events surrounding the theatre’s grounds. Many arrive hours before the 8:15 p.m. curtain with gourmet baskets, folding chairs and tablecloths to dine on the lawn. Others grab fast food sacks for impromptu picnics under a tree. For those looking for other dining options the MUNY Culinary Productions has it covered providing bountiful dinner buffets at the Culver Pavilion (which, by day is a rehearsal hall), box picnic suppers at Café One and classic hand held treats from hot dogs to ice cream cones served at their various concession stands.
An additional treat served up for groups of 15 or more is the free backstage tour held before each performance. Besides having the opportunity to see show sets and the backstage magic of its productions, tour groups get to stand on the MUNY stage. It’s the ultimate experience that’s simply summed up in one word, awesome.
Summer and the MUNY season is fleeting. Come and enjoy a classic show under the stars but come prepared to stand and applaud – the 2015 promises to bring another standing ovation season.
To plan your MUNY experience, to view show schedule, book a tour and to get ticket information click on www.muny.org.
Guest Blogger Suzanne Corbett contributed to this blog.