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The Muny Centennial Gala
An Evening With the Stars
May 19, 2018

Matthew Morrison, Heather Headley
Photo: The Muny

The Muny is 100! A summer tradition that generations of St. Louisans grew up with, the Muny has endured many changes over the years, but in 2018, it’s still here and it’s thriving. And now, the Muny has kicked off its centennial season with a gala extravaganza that celebrates its history as well as–both intentionally and unintentionally–demonstrating some time-honored Muny traditions, such as how to deal with rain delays.

Note the date I’ve listed at the top of this article. That’s not the published date for this extravaganza. In fact, the lavish centennial celebration dinner did take place on the advertised date of Friday, May 18, and every effort was made to stage the show, as well. As the thousands of attendees took their seats and waited, the Muny’s technical crews did their best to ready the stage for the event during a brief respite from the rain that had been drenching St. Louis essentially all day. There was hope, but alas, the rain started up again, and Executive Producer Mike Isaacson ran onstage to make the announcement that the show would have to be postponed until the next night–Saturday, May 18. So, at the same time one day later, the crowds returned and the show went on, but not without a few more weather-related hitches. The show started on time, but the unpredictible St. Louis weather made for two rain delays lasting about 20 minutes each. Still, even with these stoppages, the show started strong and didn’t lose its momentum.  It was a treat from start to finish, bringing back some Muny favorites and legendary stars as well as highlighting frequent Muny ensemble members and the Muny Kids and Teens.

“An Evening With the Stars” was no exaggeration, with a stellar lineup hosted by Broadway star Heather Headley, who has appeared at the Muny as the Witch in Into the Woods, and Broadway and TV star Matthew Morrison, who is perhaps best known for Glee. These two served as presenters for the event and also got their moments to shine, with Morrison leading a fun production number featuring a condensed version of the musical Hairspray, and Headley bringing down the house with her powerful vocals on a medley from Funny Girl. There were also standout performances and stories from Patrick Cassidy, who sang “Till There Was You” from The Music Man alongside fellow Muny alum Jenny Powers, as well as recounting a story from the filming of the movie that starred his mother, Shirley Jones, who also sent along a video greeting. There was also a stirring rendition of “Memory” from Cats by beloved Muny favorite Ken Page, an energetic ensemble tap number of “We’re In The Money” led by Lara Teeter, and Graham Rowat leading the entire cast in singing “The Quest (The Impossible Dream)” from Man of La Mancha. Other memorable segments included two songs from the classic A Chorus Line–“What I Did For Love” sung by an impressive group of longtime Muny veterans and regulars, and then the grand finale, a spectacular dance to the showstopping “One”, featuring energetic dancing and well-timed fireworks from behind the stage and from the sides of the auditorium itself. It was a truly stunning conclusion to spectucular show.

Ensemble
Photo: The Muny

As wonderful as the whole show was, though, I think special note should be made of two legendary performers who commanded the stage with stories and songs, demonstrating the longevity of their extraordinary talents. I’m referring to the truly superb Chita Rivera and Tommy Tune, who proved that even after decades in the business, their remarkable talent, energy and stage presence are still very much in evidence. The 85-year-old Rivera and 79-year-old Tune–who both starred in Bye Bye Birdie at different times but never together–treated the audience to a delightful rendition of the show’s last scene and the song “Rosie”, showing excellent stage chemistry in the process, and expert, energetic tapping from Tune. Rivera also had a great moment telling stories from the making of the original production of Chicago and singing the signature “All That Jazz”, and although the choreography has been simplified, her attitude and style are still there in force. For me, a lifelong theatre fan who had never before been given the opportunity to see these great stars live, their performances were the clear highlight of the already stellar production.

Chita Rivera, Tommy Tune
Photo: The Muny

The techical values of this event were also impressive, with direction by Matt Kunkel, music direction by  Michael Horsley, and Choreography by Michael Baxter. The set by Paul Tate dePoo III was simple but elegant, and the costumes by Robin L. McGee and hair and makeup by Kelley Jordan sparkled and dazzled. There was also exellent lighting and video design by Rob Denton, Nathan W. Scheuer, Matthew Young, and Shelby Loera. It was a great looking, great sounding, star-studded production that’s fitting of a 100-year anniversary celebration for such storied St. Louis institution.

The big show was only part of the celebration, though. In addition, the Muny hosted a “Birthday Bash” open house event on Sunday, May 20 featuring many free events that allowed the St. Louis public an even closer look at what makes the Muny so distinctive. With historical displays, vehicles that were used in various shows such as the Jeep from South Pacific and a Ford Model T car from  Thoroughly Modern Millie, as well as showtune karaoke, a ferris wheel, and a fascinating backstage tour and opportunity to step on the famous, enormous Muny stage, it was an excellent way for the Muny to share even more of its rich history with its audience.  The Muny has gotten off to a great start celebrating 100 years in Forest Park. Next on the schedule: its much-anticipated 100th season of musical theatre, which begins soon, on June 11 with the Jerome Robbins’ Broadway.

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