Tune Up

The Muny improved this year -- but 2004 wasn't a hard act to follow

In addition to the children's show, of late the Muny has added a show geared to younger audiences -- the Andrew Lloyd Webber slot. The rotation includes Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and, as a break from Webber, the ever-enthralling Godspell. Evitahasn't been seen for five years, so that's a possibility. But don't be surprised if Elton John's Aida elbows its way into Webber Week. Or perhaps that spot will go to Grease. Or perhaps we'll get all three.

At least Aida would be fresh. One reason Beauty and the Beast worked so well this summer is that it was new to Forest Park. Everyone from the scenic designer to the cast to the musicians seemed to be invigorated by working on something they hadn't already done a half-dozen times. Muny subscribers deserve a minimum of one new show each summer. Aida would fill that category -- though not nearly so well as Titanic or Ragtime, which offer meatier evenings of theater.

Here's a seditious suggestion for a new Muny category: Already there are slots aimed at children and teens. How about one musical per summer geared to adults? The rapt attention paid earlier this month to West Side Story eloquently confirmed that Muny audiences crave more than an exclusive diet of cotton candy. In addition to the fact that neither has been seen before in Forest Park, Titanic and Ragtimewould remind viewers that the most ambitious musicals can still entertain even as they strive for something beyond escapism.

If Blake really wants to test his producing mettle, why not mount Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street? We can already hear the cries of dismay, but who's crying? Not the Muny audiences. Sweeney Toddwasn't even listed on this year's annual survey of shows they most want to see, so subscribers don't even get to weigh in on the subject. Who has determined that Muny audiences need to be saved from an American classic? If it's simply an economic consideration, does anyone seriously think Sweeney Todd would be weaker at the box office than Annie Get Your Gun or Mame?

Of course this won't happen, but it's fun to dream. After all, who would have believed last August that this summer's Muny season would be so improved?

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