One hundred years ago St. Louis was a very different place. Many of the institutions we consider essential to our collective identity were either just getting started or not even dreamed up yet. And yet in 1918 as World War I ended and the glow from the 1904 World's Fair faded, Mayor Henry Kiel believed what St. Louis needed was a municipal theater that could provide entertainment and culture for everybody.
Here we are 100 years later and the seed planted so long ago still bears fruit every summer. The Muny marks a century of performances, stars, changing tastes and audiences with a party on Sunday, May 20. The Muny Birthday Bash holds true to Kiel's inspired vision: It's free, and everybody is invited.
Tracy Utzmyers is the Muny's production manager, and she's currently in the midst of final preparations for the party but hesitates to claim ownership of an event a long time in the making.
"I'm not planning the Birthday Bash on my own, and I don't want to say I'm in charge. I'm just the loudest person in the room," Utzmyers clarifies. "We've been talking about the party for probably a year and a half, or two years now. We started sorting out the logistics of the big day probably back in September."
COURTESY OF THE MUNY
Cary Grant made his Muny debut in 1931 when he was still using his real name, Archibald Leach.
The "big day" is musically themed, naturally, with events that hearken back to the deep repertoire of shows in the Muny's history. Highlights include Aladdin
's camel rides for the kids, an All Shook Up
bandstand and a Meet Me in St. Louis
Ferris wheel, as well as food trucks, cupcakes and strolling characters.
"I keep thinking of it as a street fair, you're not going to be able to do everything," cautions Utzmyers. "You're going to have to pick and choose what you want to do. We have kids zones, some local bands and we'll shut down the street in front of the Muny for the food trucks. It goes all the way up the hills toward the upper parking lot."
One of the most interesting options is the interactive backstage tour, which shines a spotlight on the Muny people who never take the stage.
"It's a self-guided tour that will take you through the whole backstage area," explains Utzmyers. "The orchestra, hair, wardrobe, wig and craft people will show you what they do to bring the Muny to life. They're the core of how we get this done every year. Oh, and the technical crew will be striking the lighting rig from the Friday night gala, so you can see how that comes down."
COURTESY OF THE MUNY
Yul Brynner played the King in The King and I in the Muny's 1976 season.
Of course, the audience is included in the celebration.
"The tour ends onstage, where we're encouraging people to take photos of themselves onstage," Utzmyers says. "If you use the hashtag 'muny100' with those selfies and photos, they'll be pulled in to a program that will make a mosaic of our logo out of all the faces. That will be displayed around St. Louis in a number of places throughout the year."
As always, no trip to the Muny is complete without a big finish that gets everybody on their feet. Utzmyers is tight-lipped about exact details, but she's willing to share a bit of information.
"We're going to video the whole audience doing a sing-along at the end. I'm not sure what's going to happen with the video, but it will be shared in a few places," she promises. "The theater community keeps coming out every summer and asking for more. This is about everybody at the Muny thanking the community for what they bring, and asking them to celebrate a once-in-a-lifetime event with us."
The Muny Birthday Bash takes place from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday, May 20, at the Muny in Forest Park (www.muny.org). Admission is free, and everybody is welcome.