|Former names||Municipal Theater of St. Louis (1917-19)|
|Address||1 Theatre Dr|
St. Louis, MO 63112-1019
|Owner||Municipal Theatre Association of St. Louis|
|Opened||June 5, 1917|
|Renovated||1923, 1930, 1935, 1997, 2004, 2014-15, 2018-19|
($230 thousand in 2018 dollars)
The St. Louis Municipal Opera Theatre (commonly known as The Muny) is an amphitheatre located in St. Louis, Missouri. The theatre seats 11,000 people with about 1,500 free seats in the last nine rows that are available on a first come, first served basis.
The Muny seasons run every year from mid-June to mid-August. It is run by a nonprofit organization. The current president and chief executive is Dennis M. Reagan. The current artistic director and executive producer is Mike Isaacson.
In 1914, Luther Ely Smith began staging pageant-masques on Art Hill in Forest Park. In 1916, a grassy area between two oak trees on the present site of The Muny was chosen for a production of As You Like It produced by Margaret Anglin and starring Sydney Greenstreet with a local cast of "1,000 St. Louis folk dancers and folk singers" in connection with the tercentenary of Shakespeare's death. The audience sat in portable chairs on a gravel floor.
Soon after, the Convention Board of the St. Louis Advertising Club was looking for an entertainment feature for its 13th annual convention, which was to take place June 3, 1917. Mayor Henry Kiel, attorney Guy Golterman, and Parks Commissioner Nelson Cunliff stepped in and, in 49 days (not counting seven lost to rain), created the first municipally owned outdoor theatre in the United States. On June 5, 1917, the opera Aida was presented on what would become the Muny stage.
In 1919, the new theatre received a name: St. Louis Municipal Opera Theatre, or "The Muny" for short. The first show under the Muny banner was Robin Hood, which opened on June 16, 1919, and featured Mayor Kiel as King Richard. Concerts were performed here prior to the opening of Riverport Amphitheatre in 1991.
By the beginning of the 1921 season, the facility had a new permanent stage. Its base was concrete to prevent damage from floods, such as one that damaged the theater's equipment on opening night in 1919. Improvements for 1922 included a new pergola, 750 permanent opera chairs, 500 parking spaces for automobiles, and the addition of "comfort stations". Additions for 1923 included 1,800 permanent seats, an extra stage for rehearsals, and a sound amplifier to enable people in the back of the audience to hear as well as those in the front.
On January 4, 1923, the Municipal Theater Association opened a free school for people who aspired to sing in the chorus for that summer's productions. Of 420 applicants, 239 had been accepted as of the class's beginning, with 45 remaining to be examined. Classes met two nights a week until May 1, when rehearsals began.
Keil stepped down from being president of the Muncipal Theater Association in 1924, saying that the enterprise should be headed by businessmen, and Cunliff simultaneously left his position as chairman of the group's Executive Productions Committee. H. J. Pettengill, chairman of Southwest Bell Telephone Company's board of directors, was elected the new president.
Reserved seats for all paid admissions were instituted in 1925, after 2,400 numbered chairs were installed in the previously unreserved 25-cent section.
In 1930, the stage was equipped with a turntable for performance purposes. It was reconstructed in 1997 due to dilapidation. In 1994, The Muny's board of directors founded the Muny Kids, a select group of performers between the ages of 7 and 13 who traveled around St. Louis performing, and in the summer gave preview shows prior to the production. In 1998, the Muny Teens group was formed for the same purpose, featuring teen performers between the ages of 14 and 18.
For a complete listing of all productions since the first season in 1919, see List of The Muny repertory.
The Muny produces all of its musicals (typically seven) in the season and operates only in the summer. During the winter, a full-time staff of fewer than 20 people prepare for the next summer season. During the season itself, the summer staff expands to include more than 500 people in various positions. All shows are rehearsed within the course of 11 days, with two technical rehearsals (one costumed, one not) being held in the two to three days before the show's opening. Shows run from Monday to Sunday, although exceptions to this have occurred, particularly in recent years, when each season has had at least one production with an extended run.
The Muny website claims it is the "nation's oldest and largest outdoor musical theatre." Numerous amphitheatres/outdoor theatres have a larger capacity area, but The Muny houses the largest number of seats. No lawn seating exists inside The Muny. In addition, The Muny is the largest to host only Broadway-style musical theatre.
The next-largest seat capacity theatre in the United States is the San Manuel Amphitheater in California, housing 10,900 seats.
For a list of other amphitheatres see: List of contemporary amphitheatres.
Since its beginning, The Muny has featured hundreds of big names in theatre, television, and film on its stage, drawing inevitably huge crowds. A history of the celebrities who have performed at The Muny, including a cast listing, can be found on The Muny's website.
During one of the last productions each summer season, survey forms are handed out to audience members. On this survey, audience members are asked to select their top seven choices from a long list of show titles. The choices change each year, depending on which titles are available and what shows have not been produced for a number of years. The survey results contribute to (though are just one of many determining factors in deciding) show choices for upcoming seasons. In the past, The Muny chiefly operated on a five-year cycle in which a title could not be produced again until five seasons had passed. Over the past two decades, Fiddler on the Roof, Annie, My Fair Lady, 42nd Street, West Side Story, and The Wizard of Oz have been the most popular titles, each receiving four productions since 1990. The 2012 Muny season was announced in October 2011, a significant shift from the typical Muny practice of officially announcing the upcoming summer season in the preceding January or February of the same year.