Muny 101

The Muny season I propose...

I know, the 2015 season is already underway, but I'm playing the long game here.

I remember, shortly after Mike Isaacson was named the Muny's new artistic director, I was in his office at the Fox, and I said, only half kidding, "You know, Mike, I have a list of shows I wanna see at the Muny now." And he smiled and said, "Scott, New Line can afford to have 75 people in the audience; the Muny can't."

Fair point.

But there are quite a number of very cool older shows that were written big and probably can only be done big. In other words, only community theatres and the Muny can afford anymore to do these shows as they were intended. Being the obsessive musical theatre freak I am, you can assume correctly that I have pretty strong ideas about what shows I'd like to see at the Muny in coming years.

Okay, before I go any further, let me first sing the praises of Mike Isaacson and the New Muny. I've been going to the Muny since before I can remember. For my entire childhood, my family saw at least one Muny show every summer, and as an older kid, I spent many evenings in the free seats. I also ushered out there for eight seasons (1980-1987).

But for much of the 1990s and 2000s, the Muny wasn't what it could (should) be. The artistic quality was marginal and the programming was one big fuckin' snooze-fest. (Tell us what you really think, Scott.) Paul Blake was an artistic director without much taste or much respect for the musical theatre, and the Muny suffered greatly for it.

But Isaacson is a different kind of cat. First off, he loves the musical theatre as much as I do (though he has more traditional tastes), he's super-smart, and he's incredibly insightful about what makes a show work or not work. I can't imagine anyone better suited for this job. Second, he's produced a number of shows in New York, so his rolodex is a wonder to behold, which means he can lure the very top talent in New York and around the country, to direct, choreograph, design, and perform in Muny shows. The artistic quality has skyrocketed the last couple seasons.

Lost in an artsy stoner's haze the other night, I thought wouldn't it be cool for one Muny season to chronicle the history of American musical theatre! Then I immediately thought, no, too big a project for one season. Okay, how about the history of the musical comedy? Now you're talking...

Okay, so a Muny season usually includes seven shows. Here's my season:

Little Johnny Jones (1904)

No, No, Nanette (1925)

Anything Goes (1934)

On the Town (1944)

Guys and Dolls (1950)

Mack and Mabel (1974)

The Will Rogers Follies (1991)

Some well-known crowd-pleasers, but also some rich, lesser known shows that Muny audiences would love.

Now if I could have more shows (when I started ushering, the Muny had an eleven-show season!), I might also include Very Good Eddie (1915), Sweet Charity (1966), Bat Boy (1997), and/or Something Rotten (2015). You'll notice that my picks trace the history of the art form, but also, in a very real way, the history of American culture and politics during the 20th century. That shouldn't really be a surprise, because musicals have always mirrored our culture and politics.

Okay so then let's have a second season that chronicles the history of musical drama...

Show Boat (1927)

Pal Joey (1940)

Carousel (1945)

West Side Story (1957)

Zorbá (1968)

Follies (1971)

Grand Hotel (1989)

I understand that Muny audiences have more mainstream taste than New Line audiences do, but still, I've included some well-known crowd-pleasers again, alongside some really rich, lesser known shows. And yes, I would beg Isaacson on my knees to let me direct Follies.

And again, if I could have an eleven-show season, I'd also add The Cradle Will Rock (1937), The Me Nobody Knows (1970), Dreamgirls (1981), and Jelly's Last Jam (1992). Another really great line-up.

I can just picture myself as a 17-year-old drama kid, having an artistic orgasm over these two seasons.

So how would you program a season at the Muny...?

Long Live the Musical!


Anonymous | July 8, 2015 at 1:36 PM

I'd see many of these shows. And what is the status on the pre-1930s works? Would they be royalty-free to produce?

Anonymous | July 8, 2015 at 8:35 PM

Thank you for saying publicly what so many have been saying privately for years.