2024 Season

Big Stage, Big Dreams: Young Actors Ready for a Magical Muny Summer

Young people have been performing at The Muny since the very beginning. But as with most things at The Muny, the experience those young actors receive is unlike any other.

Along with the acclaimed Muny Kids and Teens troupes, which you can catch all summer as part of the Preshow Festival, the Youth Ensemble is made up of all nonadult performers from the entire season.

“The intersection of those groups is the audition process,” says Director of Education Tali Allen. “We hold separate Muny Kids auditions and Muny Teens auditions — where they also audition for the Youth Ensemble. If you are cast in the Kids or Teens troupe, you are automatically cast in a show for the season as part of the Youth Ensemble — that’s the perk.”

Performers who aren’t quite ready for the demands of one of the troupes still have the opportunity to sing and dance on the iconic Muny stage through this same audition process.

This summer there are 147 spots that will be filled by 103 Youth Ensemble members, along with 12 students from the Muny Summer Intensive.

Teens appear onstage more often than kids, Tali says, simply because they can look more like adults to an audience of 11,000.

The Youth Ensemble is part of each show’s regular rehearsal process; however, they initially learn their material separately from the adult actors until they are fully integrated with the larger cast, usually around the third day of rehearsal.

It can be a tiring schedule, especially for the ensemble/troupe members who sometimes rehearse all day, perform in the Preshow Festival and then appear in a show at night. Tali says there are typically only five to seven teens each summer who have this “back-to-back” casting.

“I only do that for the teens who I know can really handle it because it’s a really intense process,” Tali says. “They’re the ones who are incredibly disciplined and committed not only to this artform but to this place. They just love being here.”

The casting team looks to the Youth Ensemble first for the speaking or “principal” roles for youth performers. St. Louis-area actors are filling all six principal youth parts this summer — four are also Muny Kids or Teens.

This is 16-year-old Leia Rhiannon Yogi’s fifth Muny season. Leia will play Flounder in Disney’s The Little Mermaid and says The Muny has made her dream of pursuing a career in musical theatre a possibility.

“I have learned how to conduct myself in a professional environment,” Leia says. “It has also helped me adapt and learn choreography and music faster. I have met some of my best friends through The Muny, and I have been able to work with kids and adults who have the same interests and passion that I do.”

Leia Rhiannon Yogi (center) with other Youth Ensemble members in 2023’s 
Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. You will see her as Flounder this season in Disney’s The Little Mermaid, which runs July 8-16.
Leia Rhiannon Yogi (center) with other Youth Ensemble members in 2023’s
Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. You will see her as Flounder this season in Disney’s The Little Mermaid, which runs July 8-16.

Kate Kappel says The Muny is her favorite place to be in the summer. The 12-year-old will play Little Cosette in Les Misérables. Kate was also Gretl von Trapp in The Sound of Music (2021) and has appeared in the Youth Ensemble for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (2022) and Sister Act (2023).

“My dream is to someday be on Broadway,” she says. “At The Muny, I have learned how to be in a real, professional setting, with many different people doing so many different jobs. You need to listen to direction, pay close attention to changes and learn the show in only 12 days of rehearsal!”

There’s a wealth of talent across all ages in St. Louis, says Associate Artistic Director Michael Baxter, who leads The Muny’s casting efforts. Among the youth principals in particular, he says, it’s exciting to offer a first professional opportunity to a young person capable of delivering at this level.

“Our kids and teens have an incredible work ethic and standard of excellence that they hold themselves to. That is The Muny’s reputation on Broadway, on national tours and in theatres all across the country,” Michael says. “Many of our young people are long-term players in this industry because they learn what that means here.”

The Youth Ensemble is one of eight programs offered as part of The Muny’s Crawford Taylor Education Initiative. Tali and her team serve more than 2,000 St. Louis-area students throughout the year.

This article originally appeared in the summer 2024 edition of Behind the Booms, a publication for Muny donors.

Categories: 2024 Season, Announcements, Muny News

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