St. LouIS Counted as America’s Largest and Oldest Outdoor Theatre Showplace

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Wednesday, June 13, 2018

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At the ripe old age of 100, the venerable Municipal Opera Theatre of St. Louis, commonly known as The Muny, is America’s oldest and largest non-profit outdoor musical theatre. Still located in its original venue, this St. Louis landmark specializes in presenting Broadway classic musical revivals each summer.  Over the last century The Muny has produced the best of Broadway shows featuring an impressive lineup of world-famous performers for generations of St. Louis residents and visitors alike.

The Muny’s longtime slogan – Alone in Its Greatness – captures its unique qualities. For example, although other amphitheaters and outdoor theatres may occupy a larger capacity area, The Muny houses the largest number of permanent seats. And, in addition to having no lawn seating inside the theatre, The Muny also is the largest outdoor venue that hosts only Broadway-style musical theatre.

To find out more, this blogger reached out to Laura Peters, director of archives, who responded to a few questions.

­­­Q: How many performances and different shows have been presented since opening?

A: “Counting the seven shows scheduled for 2018, The Muny has produced 936 separate week-long productions. This does not include concerts or one-night one-person shows.”

Q: What is the most performed show?

A: “There have been 15 individual productions of Show Boat since 1930.”

Q: How many seats are there and how often have they’ve been replaced?

A: “There are 10,700 seats in the theatre, including 1,456 free seats. The first seats in the theatre were benches and folding seats borrowed from the St. Louis City Parks Department. In 1933, the first stadium-style seats were installed. In 1968, those were replaced by seats that were color-coded to identify the sections. The most reseating of the theatre happened in 2001.”

Q: How many days are allocated to produce a show?

A: “Generally speaking, 11 days are allocated to rehearse a show, but that’s just the tip of iceberg.

“It would be virtually impossible to even estimate how much planning time goes into any given show. Set designers, costume designers, and lighting designers may begin to work months before a show. Those elements must be coordinated with each other for maximum impact.

“Even before auditions, producers, casting directors, and music and stage directors must know how many performers will be needed, and what specific kinds of talent each should have.  Choreographers decide what style of dancer is required for each show and the choreography must be designed.

“Orchestrations must be edited, and scores copied and distributed.

“This list is not exhaustive. For instance, it doesn’t take into account the planning time for set construction, painting the sets, and pulling props. It doesn’t include the scheduling of rehearsal space, or allocating how much rehearsal time is needed for each performing element. It doesn’t include the hiring of any of those people, or their assistants, or assigning jobs for each. Last but not least, it doesn’t touch on marketing, promotions or publicity.

“In short, while some say that it takes 11 days to produce a show, in reality, the man hours required to mount a musical the size of a Muny production might well be counted in months.”

Q: How many musicians fit in the orchestra pit?

A:  “The orchestra pit was originally said to hold 180 musicians, although more than 50 per show was an oddity. These days, it’s hard to say how many MIGHT fit, but the members of the orchestra are hired in accordance to the dictates of the individual show scores, with most shows averaging around 30 musicians.”

As the Muny celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2018, there are a lot more stories, fun facts and images available online at the Missouri Historical Society, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and of course, The Muny. With tickets available starting at $15, shows this season from June 11 through August 12 include Jerome Robbins’ Broadway, The Wiz, Singin’ in the Rain, Jersey Boys, Annie, Gypsy and Meet Me in St. Louis.