Take Me Out to the Muny

How to make money and stultify people

Everyone who cares seriously about the Muny gets a good laugh at the mere mention of the annual Muny surveys. Subscribers are encouraged to believe that by voting in a two-stage, winnowing-down survey, they are participating in the Muny's stated "tradition of bringing you the shows you most want to see." Yet the survey results are never released. (Our request to see last summer's tallies was refused.) So not only are those results dubious, but so too is the very makeup of the lists, which carefully omit most musicals that don't fit into Blake's mass-audience, we've-staged-it-before-so-let's-stage-it-again mentality. Instead audiences are asked to rubber-stamp the umpteenth Oklahoma! or West Side Story.

What weary viewer, then, couldn't be excused for picking a fresh title like Breakfast at Tiffany's over something he'd seen time and again? Doubtless, if the Muny were to add American Idol to its surveys, that too would elicit a huge vote. Of course, there's no musical to back up American Idol, but that's a trifling concern; nor was there a musical to back up Breakfast at Tiffany's.

"There's a large group of wonderful shows that I love that [the Muny is] guaranteed to lose $100,000 or more on," Blake told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch last month, "shows like Kismet and The Pajama Game." But it's not simply 1950s musicals that he has discarded as money losers. Tony Award winners such as Cabaret and Applause have not been seen at the Muny in more than thirty years, The Wiz and Promises, Promises (two other Tony honorees) in more than twenty. New York hits including Barnum, Dreamgirls, Grand Hotel, Me and My Girl, Once Upon a Mattress, Ragtime and Titanic have never been staged in Forest Park.

Miraculously, Cabaret, Ragtime and Titanic all survived stage one of this summer's survey. But don't expect to see them next summer. Sky Masterson would bet on the likes of Funny Girl, Grease, The King and I, Hello, Dolly! -- all of which were staged in 1997 or '99. An even surer bet would be another dance-heavy musical in the winning tradition of last summer's Crazy for You or last week's 42nd Street. Watch for the return of Singin' in the Rain or Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, both of which appeared way back in 2000.

Surely we all want Blake to be able to revive some of those wonderful older shows that he says he loves. So here's a thought: The Muny has approximately 550 "guarantors" -- presumably the city's best and brightest (and often wealthiest) -- who supposedly are committed to underwriting the theater's financial losses. Why not ask that valued support group to reimburse his $100,000 loss? It divvies up to less than $200 per guarantor, certainly a small price to pay for love.

If Blake really wants to produce something apart from the tried-and-true (or a show he hasn't written himself), here's an even better idea: Why not look to the Great American Pastime for added revenues? The Muny and Busch Stadium share much in common: They're both open-air enterprises with a festive air; at both institutions vendors roam the concrete aisles, hawking beverages. The Muny even sells Cracker Jack. The Cardinals have ruthlessly succeeded in selling off nearly every aspect of the game to sponsors. How about putting the Muny naming rights on the block? The theater has already sold the stage to James McDonnell; why not sell the amphitheater? That could garner enough money for a decade of Pajama Games. How about finding a sponsor for that steady stream of announcements about cars whose headlights are left on? Or selling a Paul Blake bobblehead doll? The possibilities are limitless.

Of course, there's one significant difference between Busch Stadium and Forest Park. In baseball it's not enough to put bodies into the seats. The manager is expected to deliver a winning season. That expectation no longer holds true in the pod-infested world of the Muny.

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