Isaacson is interrupted by a long-distance phone call from Gary Griffin, who will direct Aladdin. Griffin, who directed the Broadway version of The Color Purple and a brilliantly innovative West Side Story at Stratford, Ontario, is preparing to make his Muny debut. "I was talking to Michael [Anania] and Tracy," Isaacson tells Griffin. "We want to dial down on solving the problem of the Genie's entrance. We don't want to do something conventional. We want to find Muny ways to break the rules. How about if we flip this problem to Muny magic and have the Genie enter through the audience by coming down one of the side ramps on a motorcycle?" A moment later: "So we have your blessing, Gary? Great!"

He rushes out of his office to share the conversation with Anania. At moments like this, Isaacson seems so charged with kinetic electricity that his hair appears to stand on end. You risk getting a shock if you touch him. When he returns to his office, he says, "The fundamental challenge of creating a show — and it doesn't make any difference whether it's on Broadway or at the Muny — is communication. Are we all creating the same show together? The Muny lot is a very confined space, but I've learned that information can fall between the cracks here, too. You cannot take anything for granted. That's why, after I got the OK from Gary, I had to go tell Michael immediately that we're clear on those Aladdin changes.

"Aladdin is especially important, because that's our 'moral covenant show.' The Muny family musical is a generations-old tradition for St. Louis. It's a massive civic cultural ritual. I'll tell you the truth: Last summer when the Muny staged The Little Mermaid, that was the only time I got scared about having taken this job. I remember asking myself, 'What have I gotten into?' Every night at Aladdin there will be 3,000 people in the audience who have never been to the theater before in their lives. We owe it to those youngsters to make their first theatergoing experience memorable. To his credit, Paul did a brilliant job with The Little Mermaid. He isolated the heart of that show. We want to do the same with Aladdin."


At work in the Muny’s costume shop.
Jennifer Silverberg
At work in the Muny’s costume shop.
A rehearsal for All That Jazz.
Jennifer Silverberg
A rehearsal for All That Jazz.

AT 3 P.M. the various crews finish for the day. All twenty pockets have been sewn onto the Millie dresses. Progress has been made on construction of the Chicago set. With the cessation of the morning's constant hammering and sawing, a deceptive quiet settles over the back lot.

At four o'clock the snack bar closes. Alternately known as the Canteen, the Cantina and the Backstage Deli, this is where Muny employees have always congregated to hang out. On Fridays it's an especially congenial location, because it is here that Sue Greenberg dispenses paychecks. Today the canteen has sold 55 Gatorades, 29 orders of French fries, 20 "Egg McMunys," 15 cups of lemonade, 14 cheeseburgers and 14 "Denny's Salads." (So far, no "Mike's Muffuletta.")

As the afternoon seems to be winding down, Isaacson receives an unwelcome phone call from a New York agent whose client is withdrawing from the role of Judah in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, owing to a conflict with a TV gig. This is a blow; the role was being re-orchestrated to fit a particular style of voice. Isaacson shares his dismay with the agent, but there's no time to brood. As soon as the call is over, Isaacson starts looking for a replacement.

"We've had more than our share of casting dropouts," he confides. "Back in January and February, they freaked me out, because although you may have a list of five candidates for a role, you can only go to one actor at a time. While you wait for a response from your first choice, you're monitoring the other four. How much time do you give somebody before you cut bait? The slowness of the process drove me crazy. Now I'm more comfortable with it."

As Isaacson strides across the back lot, he bumps into Justin Guarini, who is in rehearsal for Chicago and in July will perform the title role in Joseph. "You know that American Idol world better than I do," Isaacson says. "Who has the chops to sing this role?" Guarini recommends Anwar Robinson, who finished seventh in season four of American Idol and then toured with Rent.

At 6 p.m. rehearsals end for both Chicago and Millie. Isaacson attends daily post-rehearsal production meetings for both shows. At both meetings, all the participants stand; the energy level is too high for anyone to sit. At 6:30 Isaacson returns to his office with Michael Horsley. A nineteen-summer Muny vet, Horsley is the musical director for Millie and, serendipitously, Joseph. Isaacson and Horsley begin surfing the Internet for video of their potential Judah. "Casting by YouTube," Isaacson quips. "We'd be lost without it."

By 6:45 Isaacson's assistant, David Salmo (who will be a senior at Webster University this fall), has located a phone number for Anwar Robinson's agent. Isaacson places a call, gets an answering machine. "This is Mike Isaacson at the Muny," he says. (Not "the Muny in St. Louis." He assumes people in show business recognize the name.) He makes his pitch, then heads over to the Emerson Studio (above the Canteen) for yet another rehearsal.

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2 comments
Egolterman
Egolterman

MUNY 'magic' closes on August 12th earliest of any outdoor theater on earth and the Fox, golly, opens Lion K three nights latter. Golly, could that be collusion and restraint of trade? Kansas City Starlight operates thru September with concerts ending October First with Florence and the Machine. Starlight is also presenting shows during the winter in Kauffman Center for Performing Arts, benefiting both. Reopening season of Kiel Opera House should have included a MUNY winter season. So goes...St. Louis, right into the muddy and hot mississippi.

Egolterman
Egolterman

Thank you for your 'day in the life of'' Mike & the MUNY veterans. My MUNY opens in May, runs through Labor Day, and weekends in Sept. Draws 1 million. Concerts as well as 'book' shows and re-establishes itself as the best in the Country. I restore express bus sevrice from the County, send Mike back to his grand avenue 'keepers' and Denny Reagan with him; and and fight off their 'friends' in the Park who are squeezing MUNY to death. I would provide the U.S. attorney with all the information he needs to end the restraint of trade of MUNY. Would do this for the region. MUNY is a regional asset.

 
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