From trash picker to president and CEO, Denny Reagan knows the ins and outs of The Muny
Dennis “Denny” Reagan is nothing if not dedicated. He began working at The Muny in 1968 as a summer hire. His role at the outdoor theater in St. Louis’ Forest Park expanded to year- round in 1976. Since he became a full-time employee, Reagan has missed only one evening performance – Aug. 7, 1981.
“My brother got married,” he says.
Reagan has served as president and chief executive officer of The Muny since 1991. The Muny is America’s oldest and largest outdoor musical theater. Producing seven musicals during an eight-week period each summer, the theater’s first performance took place in 1919.
At every show, Reagan can be found greeting the crowds before the performance and bidding them good night after it. Always in a jacket and tie. Even during the record-breaking, 100-plus degree evenings this summer.
“Well, the jacket did come off a few nights,” he says with a laugh.
Reagan, The Muny’s sixth president, says the audience and theater’s staff are what make his job satisfying.
“There’s nothing better than watching the crowds enjoy the performance, and to see them react to something spectacular, or funny, or touching,” he says. “And the staff here is just amazing. There are only 14 of us who work full- time, year-round. Then we amp up to 700 employees during the summer season, and the place explodes.”
Reagan was one of five children growing up in south St. Louis. He earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Missouri–St. Louis in 1974.
“Frankly, my decision to attend UMSL was largely a financial one,” he says. “I couldn’t afford room and board at an out- of-town school, so UMSL was the best choice for me. That’s why UMSL means so much, because it allowed me to get a quality education at an affordable price.”
Reagan began his career at The Muny as a trash picker, moved on to gofer, stagehand and a number of other jobs. Then, he became director of operations and ultimately president. So he came into his current role well-versed in all aspects of The Muny and says he had a few specific goals in mind.
First, it was critical to update and renovate the historic theater. His second objective was to return the theater to producing its own musicals, and the third was to build an endowment for The Muny. All three of his initial goals have been met.
“We’ve invested $22 million into the facilities since I’ve been here,” he says. “The concession area and bathrooms were renovated, new seats were installed, a two-story rehearsal space was constructed, public areas were redesigned, landscaping was updated and a lot more.”
The Muny used to bring in touring companies to perform shows mounted else- where. Now, it purchases only the script and score. The theater assembles all other elements of the musicals, exclusively for audiences at The Muny. Directors, choreographers and designers are all hired by The Muny, as is every singer, dancer, actor and musician. Every piece of scenery is built and painted by in-house craftsmen.
“Producing our own shows allows us to customize the productions,” Reagan says. “This makes it better suited to our theater, our massive stage, and for the unique enjoyment of The Muny audience.”
The theater wrapped up its 93rd season this summer, and Reagan says he’s looking forward to celebrating The Muny’s 100th summer in St. Louis.
“Plans are underway for the centennial season,” he says. “We’re going to pull out all the stops, and everyone at The Muny is already excited about it! We can’t wait to treat the crowds to the ultimate Muny summer, and frankly, neither can I. It will be one big ‘thank you’ to St. Louis for so many years of support.”
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