A century of Jewish artists and The Muny

By Bill Motchan, Special to the Jewish Light

The Muny Opera has maintained a high level of creativity and professionalism due in large part to Jewish actors and composers. A Muny Jewish alumni list reads like a who’s who of the Broadway stage and includes the writers and composers Lerner and Loewe, Rodgers and Hammerstein, the Gershwins, Leonard Bernstein and Mel Brooks.

Jewish performers who have graced the Muny stage include Bruce Adler, Lauren Bacall, Burt Bacharach, Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Michael Feinstein, Joel Grey, Jack Klugman, Zero Mostel, Chaim Topol, Theodore Bikel and Tony Randall. 

Sheldon Harnick, the great American lyricist who collaborated with composer Jerry Bock on “Fiddler on the Roof,” actually made an appearance at the Muny – as an audience member in 2016. He attended a performance of “Fiddler” when the company debuted a new song he wrote entitled “Any Day Now.”

Paul Blake, the Muny’s executive producer from 1990 through 2011, also was Jewish.

The tradition continues in Season 100, beginning with the first show, “Jerome Robbins’ Broadway,” which will run June 11-17. Robbins, the noted American choreographer, director, dancer and theater producer, was born Jerome Wilson Rabinowitz.

Many Muny fans have gone the budget route since the Great Depression and taken advantage of the free seats in the last nine rows. They are accessible from the upper Muny Opera parking lot and Lichtenstein Plaza. The free seats are one of Sue Greenberg’s favorite spots to watch a show. 

“I could sit anywhere I want on opening night, but the box office knows where I really like to sit is in the free seats, house right,” said Greenberg, company manager for the Muny. “When I tell the actors that I sit in the back, they ask why, and I tell them, ‘I know what you look like, now I want to experience what the audience is seeing,’ and watching the dancing from the back is often more thrilling than in the front.”