Muny Musings

The summer season in Forest Park had some highs, but let's keep them in perspective

It doesn't take excessive imagination to cull through previous season lists. But as justification for this lame approach, since '92 the theater once again has resorted to taking a vote -- though now nonbinding. During the final two weeks of the season, Munygoers are asked to choose their preferences from a highly dubious list. This year's preliminary list included 57 titles, more than twenty of which were shows that already have been produced since Blake took over in 1990. The culled-down list was reduced to 38. But far more intriguing than what's on these lists is what's not.

Once Upon a Mattress, for instance. For some inexplicable reason, this innocuous musical has never been produced in Forest Park. By contrast, it's no surprise that Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods was omitted from the list. The Muny is so determined to boycott this mature musical that it won't even allow its patrons to express a voting opinion.

When it comes to mature musicals, the current Muny administration has taken a firm stand: It's agin' 'em. Cabaret, Can-Can, Chicago, Follies, Gypsy, La Cage aux Folles, Pal Joey and Sweet Charity have all been successfully produced in the years prior to Blake's arrival. Yet not a one of these classic musicals made the list. Such exclusion could be merely capricious, or it could reflect the most insidious kind of censorship. One can't help but wonder: Are these shows being blackballed because of someone's social or cultural agenda?

Whatever the reason, the message is clear: Don't expect to see a show about strippers, adulterers or prostitutes (not even those with hearts of gold) -- unless, hypocritically, that show happens to be written by Blake himself.

For indeed, the most curious title on this year's list was Breakfast at Tiffany's. As all good readers know, this is the title of the Truman Capote novella about Holly Golightly, a high-class call girl. Such an unseemly story hardly seems to fit the family-friendly Muny formula -- until one learns that, in the grand tradition of Three Coins in the Fountain, White Christmas and Roman Holiday, this is yet another stage opus cobbled together by Blake himself. This one will feature songs by Johnny Mercer.

Mercer's memorable lyrics deserve to be heard on the Muny stage. How about a reworking of St. Louis Woman from 1946? Nope, it didn't make the list. Or how about Li'l Abner, the first comic strip-inspired musical, from 1956? Nope, didn't make it. If you want to hear Johnny Mercer, you're stuck with Paul Blake. Of course, being executive producer of a major venue like the Muny should have its perks. But elbowing your way onto a list that excludes major talents like Kander and Ebb should not be one of them. We demand a recount.

Obviously, as the theater in Forest Park strives to reach a mass audience of up to 11,000 people a night, it cannot be all things to all people. But with the repertory reduced to just seven titles, it's more important than ever that each and every offering be of the highest quality. We can only hope that when next season's schedule is announced, it will reflect the fact that the Muny is, as its abbreviated name clearly indicates, a municipal operation and not a vanity theater.

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