Paid attendance this summer at the Muny was up 9 percent over last summer — a rate of increase that executive producer Mike Isaacson described as remarkable.
As a rule, arts organizations look for small, steady gains, he said. “At the beginning of the season, I would have said that 5 percent would be a dream.”
Total attendance — which includes the free seats and community outreach tickets — rose 6.4 percent, from 360,307 in 2012 to 383,485 in 2013. Attendance at the open-air theater in Forest Park was the highest it has been in six years.
As usual, the most popular show of the season was the children’s production. This year’s children’s show, “Mary Poppins,” drew 79,719 theatergoers over its nine-night run.
“Shrek,” which also attracts a family crowd, drew the second-largest audience. Both “Mary Poppins” and “Shrek” played the Muny for the first time.
“West Side Story,” which closed the season on Sunday night, ranked third, followed in descending order by “Les Miserables,” “South Pacific,” “Nunsense Muny Style!” and “Spamalot.” (The season’s only rainout was the last night of “Spamalot,” affecting its attendance numbers.)
Weather was one reason the audience grew, said Denny Reagan, the theater’s president and CEO. The heat wave of the previous three summers abated — and, the Muny installed quiet new fans that run while the shows are playing. The old fans were so noisy they ran only before the show started and during intermission. “You could really feel the difference when you went from the pergolas (that surround the theater) into the seats,” he said.
Season ticket renewals were up 85 percent, new season ticket sales were up almost 3.9 percent, and a revamped corporate season-ticket program was up 44.8 percent, Reagan said.
“All the elements came together,” he said, including good word-of-mouth that encouraged people to visit the theater. “Once you see quality shows, that makes you want to come back.”
“Les Miserables” was Reagan’s personal favorite of the season.
“The material itself is powerful,” Reagan said. “And when you add that cast with Hugh Pinaro, Norm Lewis and all those kids making their debuts, that’s my personal definition of great theater.”
Isaacson said he couldn’t choose a single favorite but figures that there are St. Louisans who would be happy to give him a good argument about any of the 2013 productions.
“The conversation (about the season) is going on all over town,” he said. “The Muny is one of the mirrors that St. Louis holds up to itself.”
Isaacson and Reagan plan to announce the 2014 Muny schedule in October.