The Muny is a St. Louis institution. One that I have been to only once, 20-some years ago for a Bob Dylan concert. I had never attended a musical there, and they’ve been doing them for 93 years.
In my defense, I wasn’t raised here. There are a lot of St. Louis institutional things I’ve never done. I’ve never been to the VP Fair. I’ve never been to a Rams game or the Magic House. I’ve never sledded down Art Hill. I’ve never seen Chuck Berry play at Blueberry Hill.
I have been up in The Arch. I should get out more.
So when I received an invitation to attend opening night for The Muny’s 94th season, I responded like I usually do when someone invites me somewhere: “What time?”
For the St. Louis theater impaired, The Muny is a large outdoor theater in Forest Park. The first nice thing you notice about The Muny is that parking is free and ample. We parked at the first available lot which meant a decent walk was ahead of us, but exercise is always a good thing.
The bad thing about outdoor theater is you are at the mercy of the weather. It has been unseasonably hot and humid these past few days so I was concerned about how I would hold up. We brought a couple of water bottles filled with ice just to be safe. It turned out to be a very pleasant evening. There was a nice breeze thanks to some large fans. These Muny people seem to know what they’re doing.
The show started promptly at 8:15 p.m. with the playing of the National Anthem. I don’t know that I’ve ever been to a theatrical production that started off with the Star Spangled Banner, but hey, why should sports corner the market on patriotism?
The season opener is Thoroughly Modern Millie, the 2002 Broadway musical based on a 1967 film. Set in the 1920s, it’s the story of young Millie Dillmount, fresh off the train from Kansas she’s determined to start a new life in New York City. Her goal is the find a job and marry the boss. Somehow that will make her a modern woman.
There are complications, of course. Her boss doesn’t appear that interested in her other than for her typing speed. She becomes involved with a free-spirited, and poor, young man. And there’s a white slavery ring being run out of her hotel. The usual.
Thoroughly Modern Millie is a light-hearted, fast-paced show filled with humor and charm. There are a number of nifty dance numbers. The show requires several scene changes some of which are cleverly designed to take advantage of the rotating circular stage. The sets and costumes are colorful and sharp.
Most impressive, though, was the cast. All the main players — Tari Kelly (Millie), Andrew Samonsky (Jimmy), Beth Leavel (Mrs. Meers), Stephen R. Buntrock (Mr. Trevor Graydon) and Muzzy (Leslie Uggams) — brought their characters to life with great enthusiasm. And they could really sing, too.
When the show was over we respectfully followed rule 7 in The Muny guide-book: Don’t leave during curtain call. Who would do that anyway? It’s already a late night, skipping out while everyone’s taking their bows isn’t going to get you home any earlier.
We managed to get out ahead of most of the crowd anyway but then lost our advantage when we couldn’t find our car. Spacious parking lots can be a hassle, especially when you’re not familiar with them. We did eventually find the car and made it home, where I was able to check another box off my St. Louis bucket list.
I now see why The Muny is a St. Louis institution. I think we’ll go back next week.
Thoroughly Modern Millie runs through June 24. http://www.muny.org/