Just in time for the 100th anniversary of The Muny, the beloved outdoor theater in Forest Park has revamped “Meet Me In St. Louis,” based on a 1942 novel and 1944 MGM film of the same name, which follows the Smith family eagerly awaiting the 1904 World’s Fair.
“In 1960, The Muny proudly produced the world stage premiere of ‘Meet Me In St. Louis,’” Muny Artistic Director and Executive Producer Mike Isaacson said in a press release. “How fitting for our 100th season, we create a new edition that we hope will be more thrilling or satisfying than any before and will become the definitive stage version.”
Acclaimed Broadway director and writer Gordon Greenberg, who has become a favorite at The Muny over the past several years, has taken on the monumental task of rewriting the book for this timeless musical.
“We wanted to go back to the original stories and get to the heart of what [novel author] Sally Benson was trying to convey about the idea of home and family and a world that was fractionalizing and splintering apart,” Greenberg says. “It’s very much the same idea that we’re experiencing now. As I looked at the way the film was received during World War II, I was fascinated by the idea that they had to stop playing it for soldiers overseas because it was so evocative of home that it made them weep.”
While reworking the book, Greenberg added a few exciting new songs.
“We were lucky enough to secure rights to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s ‘Boys and Girls Like You and Me,’ which was originally written for the show but cut from it,” Greenberg says. “It’s such a thrill to unearth a Rodgers and Hammerstein song; imagine finding this rare treasure always meant to be a part of this material. We’re so happy to bring it back. We also added ‘For Me and My Gal.’ I’ve heard the Judy Garland rendition many times; it was written in the early part of the 20th century, but it has theatricality to it, making it perfect for the show. Another we added is ‘Under the Anheuser Bush,’ which will be familiar to many St. Louisans.”
Greenberg describes the original film as “a slice of life that succeeds beautifully based on music, sumptuous cinematography and performances by charming movie stars like Judy Garland.”
The story of “Meet Me In St. Louis” speaks to a very contemporary syndrome that has been relevant throughout history, Greenberg says. “People were thinking about it at the turn of the 20th century and the middle part of the 20th century, and here we are still yearning to be close to family and be grounded by people we love and the places we turn into our homes,” he says. “It’s a very human instinct in a world that’s become more separated by travel, technology and ease of movement around the globe. We begin to value those more simple things that once seemed small and boring and now suddenly seem comforting.”
Greenberg says it was Isaacson’s love for St. Louis that inspired his own appreciation of the city. “Over several summers working in St. Louis, I’ve come to really adore the city and the kindness and warmth of the people,” he says, adding he first visited St. Louis six or seven years ago while working on “Pirates!” at The Muny. “We had so much fun that all I wanted to do was come back. I did for ‘West Side Story’ and ‘Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn,’ and I came back again last summer for ‘Jesus Christ Superstar.’ Each one was an incredible experience artistically, socially and spiritually.”
Having spent much of his time working on Broadway productions, Greenberg enjoys getting some fresh air at The Muny’s outdoor theater. He also says it’s a great place to work because The Muny values camaraderie, friendship, kindness and creativity all in equal measure.
“People in the theater community know the bar at The Muny has gone so far up, especially recently,” he says. “The work being done is top-notch, so I feel incredibly proud to premiere the musical in the city it was written for.”
“Meet Me In St. Louis” closes The Muny’s historic centennial season Aug. 4-12. Season tickets are available now. Single tickets go on sale May 7. For more information, visit muny.org or call 314-361-1900. M