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How Scott Miller Is Revamping the Musical -- and Putting St. Louis Theatre on the Map 

His sharp, smart musicals have gained a national following

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So immersed is Scott Miller in musical theater that he can't recall a time when Broadway shows didn't provide the soundtrack to his life.

"My earliest memories are dozens of shows," he laughs. "Way back before I can remember, I was a musical-theater freak. I saw one Muny show a year with my family, and my parents' record collection was mostly show tunes and cast albums, with a little Percy Sledge mixed in."

Young Scott watched his older brothers perform in their high school musicals, which helped fan the flames of his passion. His parents also gave him the gift of music lessons from an early age. "They started me on piano when I was four, so I learned to read music at the same time I learned to read words," Miller says. "And to keep me interested, my piano lesson each week always included a show tune."

Miller, still a sandy blond at 51, is a St. Louis native. His father was a plant manager for a vending machine manufacturing company, and his mother was a homemaker. After his parents divorced, she went back to work as the secretary to the chief of police in Webster Groves. When he was sixteen he got a job as a Muny usher. He returned to the outdoor theater every summer for the next seven years.

"It was an amazing education. I saw shows like Joe Namath and Misty Rowe in Li'l Abner" — a 1980 production perhaps hampered by Namath's acting, singing and dancing abilities. Here Miller chuckles slyly and shares an anecdote about this particular show that is brutally funny — and sadly off the record. He's too professional to dish publicly, but also too enamored of theater lore to resist passing along juicy tidbits covertly.

While his childhood is a mishmash of Golden Age shows, one musical performed in the late '70s stands out in Miller's memory as a signal moment in his life.

"When I was in junior high, the high school did a production of Godspell. They brought a one-hour preview of the show to our school in an attempt to drum up ticket sales, and it blew my mind. Everything about it, it really appealed to me."

Stephen Schwartz's musical based on the Gospel of St. Matthew is tonally a far cry from later Miller favorites such as Hedwig and the Angry Inch, but in terms of message and music, they make a matching set. Both are about an outsider who sings the praises of love, and both use the popular music of their eras (the symphonic rock of the '70s and the post-punk sounds of the late '90s) to frame their stories.

And it was Godspell's songs that really struck Miller.

"I went to the high school to see the full production," Miller's eyes shine as he pauses to remember the night his life expanded into a new dimension. "I loved it. I came down from my room at 11:30 that night and asked my mom to take me to Peaches" — the legendary record-store chain that had 40-odd stores coast-to-coast in the '70s — "to buy the cast album. So, there we were at midnight in Peaches..."

He was introduced to Richard O'Brien's cult masterpiece The Rocky Horror Picture Show while at Affton High School, along with Grease, another show to which Miller pledges his undying love. By this time he knew making musical theater would be his life's work, but he didn't know exactly how he would make it.

"I originally wanted to be an actor. In my junior year we had a class called Theater Arts. The teacher said, 'It'd be great if one of the students would write a play we could do.'" Miller thought he could be that student. "I wrote a musical, Adam's Apple, which was about a dork who loves a bad girl but who ends up with the good girl."

For Miller, this initial attempt at writing altered his direction. "That play was maybe the start," he muses. He continued to act when he headed off to Harvard (he earned a degree in music and musical theater), but the appeal of being involved behind the scenes was growing.

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August 12, 2020

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