If you want a unique live theatre experience, there is nothing like sitting in a huge outdoor theatre with nearly 11,000 other people. At The Muny Theatre in St. Louis the venue itself is as much of a spectacle as the Broadway-quality shows it stages.
The Muny Theatre in St. Louis
The sprawling, nearly 100-year-old theatre with Renaissance-style columns is built into a hillside, with the stage at the bottom and seats sloping upward. Audiences take in fantastic rotating stage sets and large choral dance numbers punctuated with fireworks, while high above the iridescent wings of nighttime insects shimmer as they pass through the spotlight beams. (I saw no mosquitoes!)
The Muny has only one flaw: There is not enough elevation between rows of seats, so any large people who sit in front of you can significantly obstruct your view.
Otherwise, a night at The Muny is pure summertime joy.
Short for The Municipal Theatre Association of St. Louis, The Muny stages several popular musicals every summer, with this year’s run including My Fair Lady, Into the Woods, Hairspray, Holiday Inn, Oklahoma, and The Buddy Holly Story.
The Muny is in Forest Park, which is also home to The Saint Louis Zoo, Science Center, Missouri History Museum, and St. Louis Art Museum (all great destinations with free admission). Forest Park originally was the location for the 1904 World’s Fair.
Meet Me at The Muny
Since I moved to St. Louis several years ago, I’ve become familiar with the catchy commercials on local television beckoning, “Meet me at The Muny.” I’ve been wanting to attend a show, and I’ve been waiting until my firstborn daughter was old enough to sit through it and handle the late hours; Muny shows start at 8:15 p.m. to ensure a sufficiently dark theatre.
My daughter, Megan, is now 7 years old and is a fledgling fan of live theatre. She had an ensemble role in a high school production of Beauty and the Beast last spring, and when I noticed The Muny’s 2015 lineup included Beauty and the Beast, I knew this was the year for us to see our first show there. We planned a mom-and-daughter date and left my husband and our 3-year-old at home to watch the Disney DVD of Beauty and the Beast.
First, we had to decide whether we wanted to buy tickets. Muny tickets range from $87 for premium seats to … free! About 1,500 seats in the last few rows are available first-come first-served at no charge. The free seats are far enough from the stage that people recommend binoculars. But hey, they’re free! Be warned: The Muny’s website says lines for the free seats sometimes begin forming as early as 4 p.m.
Because Beauty and the Beast is a popular show, I decided to guarantee our seats by purchasing $14-a-piece tickets in advance for seats in the rows just ahead of the free seats. The cost was around $17.25 each after handling fees. It seemed like a bargain for a show that boasts many cast members with Broadway experience.
What to do Before the Show
We arrived on theatre grounds about two hours before show time so we could eat a picnic dinner under the trees, walk around, and take in the pre-show festivities. It was worth our time. The grounds are beautiful with landscaping, covered walkways, and fountains. Musicians performed at various locations outside the theatre, and one area had children’s activities such as a magician, coloring tables, and a raffle for several Build-A-Bears. They also did a reading of the story of Beauty and the Beast. On some evenings, a group of local youth talent called The Muny Kids will perform, which I’m told is a treat.
When the theatre gates opened, we were allowed to take in small soft-side coolers as long as they fit under our seats. Megan and I each brought insulated lunch bags filled with water bottles and snacks. (They request that you don’t bring glass bottles or “crunchy” wrappers.)
The Muny also has concession stands selling soft pretzels, nachos, drinks, and ice cream treats at prices that compare to what you’d find at a ball park. If you’re feeling splurgy, you can make reservations to eat before the show at The Muny’s dining pavilion. The spread the night of our show included ribs, crabmeat-topped tilapia, and chilled strawberry soup for $22 per adult, $10.50 per kid.
A Large-Scale Theatre Spectacle
At 8:15 p.m., we stood to sing the National Anthem, and the show got under way. In the fading daylight, I watched with amusement as a helicopter flew not far from the theatre and a duck passed swiftly overhead. It’s all part of the ambiance of an outdoor show. It’s worth peeling your eyes off the stage occasionally to look around the theatre and glance at the night sky.
The show was superb, with high-talent acting, singing, and dancing. Megan was pleased when we read in the program that the actor playing LeFou was one of the lost boys in NBC’s broadcast of Peter Pan Live last December, one of her favorite shows.
We were impressed by the elaborate sets that moved on a rotating circular platform in the middle of the stage. The stage, by the way, is reportedly the size of half a football field, and a Muny Facebook promotional post noted the Be Our Guest number featured a whopping 85 people dressed as dining utensils. The entire production was a spectacle in large-scale theatre, with the additional fun of fireworks during Be Our Guest and the finale. Get a peek or check out other Muny productions at this link.
Because it is such a huge venue, it was different from other live theatre I’ve experienced. I could not easily make out actors’ facial expressions without looking through binoculars, so I missed some of the nuances of their acting. Seeing a show here means you have to accept that will you see the big picture and not necessarily the details … unless you pony up for the $87 tickets. Also, while a live orchestra played, I didn’t always feel like I was listening to live instruments because they were so far away and piped through the sound system. I could hear everything loud and clear, though.
My only real complaint was how difficult it was to see over the heads and shoulders of people in the rows immediately ahead of us. At 5’6” I am not short, but the seating layout does not leave much “margin” to see over patrons’ heads. I read a few comments on TripAdvisor and Yelp warning of this. We experienced it firsthand when two large-ish-but-not-giant men sat in the two rows directly ahead of us. You know it’s bad when someone sitting two rows ahead of you causes a problem.
Megan and I had to continually move our heads and shift in our seats to look between people’s heads and shoulders. I sat there thinking, “I paid nearly $40 between the two of us for this?” At intermission, a kind couple next to us offered to switch seats so Megan could see better, and our view was greatly improved. I thanked that couple profusely.
When the show ended just before 11 p.m., we lingered for a few minutes and watched the stagehands put away set pieces while the crowd made its way out. I was prepared to take our time getting out because 11,000 people don’t go anywhere fast. (With this crowd, be prepared for long lines for the bathrooms during intermission, too.)
It took about 20 minutes to get out of the parking lot once we got to our car, and it took another 10 minutes to get out of Forest Park and onto the interstate. It’s late and you want to get the kids to bed, but accept that leaving is going to be a slow process. As we sat in the parking lot, we watched one family play with glow sticks in a grassy area near their car while they waited for traffic to clear. It looked like a great idea.
I was tired the following day. I’m not used to staying up past midnight, and I told my husband I had a “Muny hangover,” but the experience was worth the late night. If they ever remodel the theatre so a good view from the seats is a more sure thing, I’d be a fan forever. Judging from how packed the theatre always seems to be, this issue apparently doesn’t bother people enough to keep them from buying tickets. The quality talent and unique outdoor experience are enough to hook people, including perhaps myself.
For now, we’ll await the announcement of next summer’s show lineup and plan to return to snag some of those free seats, or maybe we’ll ask the in-laws for tickets as a Christmas gift. It’s a good, budget-friendly way to introduce my kids to musical theatre. We’ll just be sure to buy a few more pairs of binoculars.
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Category: Family Free Time
Tags: Family Trip Tuesday