The Magic of Musical Theater: The Muny Celebrates Its 101st Season with a Sensational Program

 In Culture, Sponsored

“You change the world when you change your mind.”
—“Kinky Boots”

If you don’t already love musical theater, this season at The Muny may change that. In its 101st year, the beloved St. Louis landmark will transport you to distant lands and past centuries, introducing captivating characters, fanciful stories, pertinent themes and new perspectives.

The 2019 season opens with Muny favorite “Guys and Dolls.” Heralded as “a perfect musical comedy” when it premiered on Broadway in 1950, the show deals in luck and love amid the underworld of New York City. Frank Loesser’s brassy, immortal score makes “Guys and Dolls” a crowd-pleaser, and you’ll leave wishing for a jukebox to replay the catchiest songs.

In his Muny debut, Jordan Gelber plays Nathan Detroit, who turns to fellow gambler Sky Masterson (Ben Davis) for the cash to set up the biggest craps game in town. Meanwhile, Detroit’s girlfriend and nightclub performer, Miss Adelaide—played by Kendra Kassebaum, who is most noted for her role as Glinda in the first national tour, Broadway and San Francisco casts of “Wicked”—laments that they’ve been engaged for 14 years! From the heart of Times Square to the cafés of Havana, eventually everyone ends up right where they belong.

Next up is “Kinky Boots,” the winner of every major best musical award, including the Tony, the Grammy and London’s Olivier Award. Based on true events, this sequined, sassy smash tells the story of Charlie (played by Graham Scott Fleming), a factory owner struggling to save his family business, and Lola (J. Harrison Ghee), a fabulous entertainer with a wildly exciting idea—two people with nothing in common, or so they think. With compassion, compromise and understanding, the unlikely pair learns to embrace their differences and creates a line of sturdy stilettos unlike any the world has ever seen. But in the end, their most sensational achievement has nothing to do with money and everything to do with heart.

“Kinky Boots” overcomes prejudice, transcends stereotypes and reminds audiences how important it is to find your passion—in a sweetly, dazzlingly, vivaciously good way, of course. And Cyndi Lauper’s charismatic score will have you dancing to your car, believing in a world where girls and boys everywhere do just wanna have fun.

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The season continues with a comedic portrait of squabbling (and singing!) politicians. Younger generations may not know this, but before “Hamilton,” there was “1776,” an electrifying musical about the Continental Congress and the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The Tony Award-winning hit begins with a deadlocked Congress—sound familiar? And by the evening of July 2, the two sides are still in conflict.

All the famous founding fathers make an appearance, including Benjamin Franklin (played by Adam Heller), Thomas Jefferson (Keith Hines, who played Nick Massi in the regional premiere of “Jersey Boys” at The Muny last summer) and John Adams (Robert Petkoff), who opens the production by delivering a line with deliciously ripe disgust: “I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is called a disgrace, that two are called a law firm and that three or more become a congress.” Adams goes on to sing, “You see/we piddle, twiddle and resolve/Not one damned thing do we solve.” But we all know how things end.

With the wave of a magic wand, we chassé from colonial America to a storybook castle. The Muny’s production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella” will undoubtedly feature tiaras and ball gowns, pumpkins and glass slippers, a prince, a clock striking midnight and a fairy-tale ending. Stylish soprano Mikaela Bennett plays the title role, and Jason Gotay returns for his fourth summer at The Muny to woo us with his princely charm. Whether you come out for the beautiful music or because your children can’t drive themselves, it will be an enchanting night for all.

Now, we know you’ve been working so hard. We think it’s time you cut loose—Footloose! Based on the 1984 film of the same name, the musical “Footloose” delivers buckets of enthusiasm, and The Muny dancers convey infectious exuberance. Making his Muny debut with the same show that was his Broadway debut 21 years ago, Jeremy Kushnier plays the Rev. Shaw Moore, who runs a tight ship in the small Midwestern town of Bomont and has banned dancing and modern music. Enter feisty Chicago teenager Ren McCormack (played by Mason Reeves), who doesn’t fit in in his new home and so decides to mix things up. “Let’s hear it for the boy.”

Then it’s off to the California Gold Rush. Suspend reality for a couple of hours and enjoy the talents of the Muny cast of Lerner and Loewe’s “Paint Your Wagon,” including Matt Bogart as restless gold-hunter Ben Rumson. Best described as “of its time,” “Paint Your Wagon” is one of those shows that proves difficult to revive, but the Muny team has met the challenge head on. If you can look beyond its sexual taboos (or at least learn to roll your eyes and chuckle), you’ll find an entertaining musical here.

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This summer’s stellar program concludes with the highly anticipated Muny premiere of Roald Dahl’s “Matilda.” Critically acclaimed artist and St. Louis native Mary Engelbreit provided the inspiration for the final show; she has been working with director John Tartaglia and the design team to give the Muny production the distinctive look and feel of the children’s novel of the same name that has bewitched people for more than three decades.

“When I imagined our ‘Matilda’ at The Muny, I instantly thought of Mary’s iconic and magical young women,” says Muny Artistic Director and Executive Producer Mike Isaacson. “What if our Matilda looked like one of them, and our production felt and looked like her world? I was so grateful that she was willing to take this leap with us and to work with Johnny and the rest of this incredible team.”

“Matilda” is about finding your destiny, creating your own path, and “sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty” to do that. On Matilda’s advice, be a little bit naughty and get tickets to all your favorite musicals coming to The Muny today.

The 2019 season schedule is: “Guys and Dolls” (June 10-16), “Kinky Boots” (June 19-25), “1776” (June 27-July 3), “Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella” (July 8-16), “Footloose” (July 18-24), “Paint Your Wagon” (July 27-Aug. 2) and “Matilda” (Aug. 5–11). For more information, visit The Muny’s website.

All images courtesy of The Muny.

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