Hosts Jacob Pahde and Craig McFarland welcome you to our effort to capture the Muni story through this oral history project. They speak about how the project came to be and also how they personally became involved in the Springfield Muni.
Laurie has been a longtime director for the Muni. Laurie made her Muni debut in 1975 the chorus of Guys and Dolls. She also played Grandma Tzeitel in Fiddler on the Roof later that summer. Since then, Laurie has performed in and directed many shows for the Muni. The first show she directed was The Wizard of Oz in 1996. She has also directed such favorites as South Pacific, Ragtime, Aida, Jesus Christ Superstar and Jekyll & Hyde. Laurie is a retired physics teacher. She taught at Glenwood High School for many years, where she also directed their musicals.
Marj is a lifelong member of the Muni family, literally. Her mother, Florence Berchtold, took her in the stroller and went house to house trying to get guarantors for the Muni in the early 1950s. Marj is a member of the Board of Trustees and has been a choreographer or performer for many shows.
Dave was a longtime Muni performer and was a member of the Muni's Board of Trustees. Dave made his Muni stage debut playing Mr. Sowerberry in Oliver! in 1982. He ended up auditioning because of a dare from one his coworkers, veteran Muni performer Nancy Diefenback. Dave played numerous roles including Smee in the first Peter Pan in 1984, The Duke in Big River in 1994, Pap Finn in Big River in 2004 and Harry MacAfee in Bye Bye Birdie in 1998. As a member of the Board of Managers and eventually the Board of Trustees, Dave was Chair of the Site Committee for a number of years. He was instrumental in getting the Lundgren-Rubley Building built. Dave now lives in Hilton Head, South Carolina.
Nancy made her Muni debut as Julie La Vergne in 1980's Show Boat. Since then, she has performed many roles over the years. She has played such roles as Eva Perón in 1985's Evita, Aldonza in 1992's Man of La Mancha, The Witch in 1991's Into the Woods, Dorothy Brock in 1988's 42nd Street and Countess Charlotte Malcolm in 2001's A Little Night Music. In addition to performing, Nancy has also vocal directed, costumed and even served on the Muni's Board of Managers. Nancy's last appearance on the Muni stage was as Mrs. Potts in 2005's Disney's Beauty and the Beast.
Deb is 1/3 of the talented Watts sisters. Deb has accompanied and vocal directed many shows at Muni. All of Deb's experiences at Muni have been in the orchestra pit. The first show that she played in the orchestra for was 1995's Meet Me in St. Louis. She accompanied her first show the following year in The Will Rogers Follies. She always enjoys playing shows that her sister Mary Myers conducts.
Sherry’s involvement with Muni began when her dad, Bill Rothman was cast as Harry MacAfee in the test run of Bye Bye Birdie in Douglas Park in 1964. Sherry made her onstage debut in 1971’s Fiddler on the Roof. Sherry was also involved in SMOYAAB (Springfield Muni Opera Young Adult Advisory Board). Over the years, Sherry has performed in many shows. She has also performed in the orchestra for several shows.
Velma’s involvement with the Muni began when she encouraged her first husband, Don Bailey to audition for the first production back at the lake, The Music Man, in 1965. And then as they say, the rest was history. Velma’s involvement mainly was backstage, but she did perform onstage in 1968’s Oliver and playing Abigail Adams in 1972’s 1776 opposite her husband, Don’s John Adams. Don Bailey directed many Muni productions, and his favorite part was spotting young talent and casting many young people in their first shows, such as Steve Kaplan and Paul Presney. Don may not be with us anymore, but his impact on the organization lives on.
Doug has been heavily involved with the Muni for so long that when you try to think of people involved with the organization, Doug is probably one of the first people that comes to mind. Doug has been involved with many Muni shows since working backstage the 1966 season. He made his onstage debut the following year in the chorus of Guys and Dolls. He has performed in, musical directed, and directed many shows over the years. Through his partnership with Gary Shull, he has co-directed favorites such as Anything Goes, The Producers and Nice Work If You Can Get It. Doug says his favorite role thus far has been playing God in Children of Eden.
Steve is currently the Chair of the Muni’s Board of Trustees. Steve made his Muni stage debut in Li’l Abner in 1970 and has been involved ever since. Steve has directed several productions and performed in many more, in addition to serving on the Board of Managers and later the Board of Trustees.
Mary Beth’s involvement with Muni began in 1971 when a coworker told her that Funny Girl was looking for a prompter. Mary Beth then made her stage debut the next year in the chorus of The Most Happy Fella. Over the years, Mary Beth has performed in a number of shows. She says her biggest role was playing Fanny Brice in the 1984 production of Funny Girl, so she went full circle. Mary Beth was appointed to the Board of Trustees a few years ago.
Rich has performed in and directed a number of Muni shows. Rich made his Muni debut in the cast of Paint Your Wagon in 1978. Since then, he has played Oliver Warbucks in Annie in 1985 and Adam in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers in 1987. His directorial credits for Muni include Fiddler on the Roof twice, South Pacific and Grease. The last show Rich directed for Muni was Cabaret in 2015.
Mary is 1/3 of the talented Watts sisters. Most of Mary's experiences at Muni have been in the orchestra pit, either as a percussionist or conductor. Mary has conducted many Muni shows. The first show that Mary played percussion for was 1980's Show Boat. The first show that Mary conducted was 1987's Annie Get Your Gun. Then, Mary went full circle because she made her one and only appearance on the Muni stage as Annie Oakley in 2005's Annie Get Your Gun.
Dennis has been involved with the Muni ever since being cast in 1967’s Camelot. He loves to tell people how he got to “hold a spear.” Dennis’s mother Virginia followed him onstage and was in the cast of a number of shows. Over the years, Dennis has performed in, assistant directed, co-directed, stage managed, and produced a number of shows. Most of Dennis’s roles were in the chorus due to being a male dancer. He says that the chorus is where “you have the most fun.” Dennis was also a longtime Board of Managers member serving several stints as President. He is now a member of the Board of Trustees.
Paul’s involvement with Muni began when he and his sister Cathy were cast by Don Bailey in 1969’s Gypsy. Paul’s mother, Jane, who had a theatre background, became involved with Muni, too, and directed many shows. Paul has performed in, directed or designed many Muni shows over the years. He has designed some of the biggest sets that the Muni has had, such as the set for Titanic, a show he also directed. Paul also served a period on the Board of Managers and was President.
Nataylee is one of Muni’s success stories being a card carrying member of Actors’ Equity, the union for professional stage actors. Nataylee made her Muni debut in Annie in 1998 and has performed in a number of our shows. She now lives in New York City and has worked professionally in a number of productions.
Don & Linda met during the Muni production of South Pacific in 1980. They are one of our Muni marriages. Linda made her Muni debut as Ursula Merkle in Bye Bye Birdie in 1976. Don made his Muni debut in that production of South Pacific where they met. He played Luther Billis and Linda played Ensign Janet MacGregor. They both went full circle in the next production of South Pacific in 1988 with Don reprising his role as Billis and Linda playing the lead, Nellie Forbush this time. They both have been in a number of Muni productions. Don was last seen on the Muni stage as Fagin in Oliver! in 2009. Linda was last seen on the Muni stage as Fräulein Schneider in Cabaret in 2015.
Dave has designed sets, costumes and props for a number of shows in the Springfield area, including several at Muni. His first Muni experience was in 1986 painting the set for Jesus Christ Superstar. He also directed Mame in 1988. Dave is best known for his creative partnership with Leigh Steiner. They started working together in 1991 on Into the Woods. Since then, they did City of Angels, The Secret Garden and Children of Eden together at Muni. Dave was a longtime art teacher and theatre director at Rochester High School. He retired several years ago.
Ada Lynn and her husband, Tom literally started the revitalization of the Muni in their living room after the original organization folded in the early 1960s. Ada Lynn was a performer in a number of productions, and she has been a longtime supporter of the organization. Tom is no longer with us, but we owe a huge debt of gratitude to the vision that he had to rebuild the organization.
Gary is a longtime director and choreographer for the Muni. Gary actually goes back to the early days and was involved during the first run of the Muni in the 1950s when he was a teenager. Gary is an accomplished teacher and choreographer, and many of his students have gone on to very successful careers on Broadway and in professional theatre.
Leigh has directed many shows in the Springfield area, including several at the Muni. Her first Muni show was directing Camelot in 1981. Since then, she directed 42nd Street in 1988, Into the Woods in 1991, City of Angels in 1995, The Secret Garden in 1997 and Children of Eden in 2000. Leigh is known for her creative partnership with Dave Shaw, whom she has worked with since Into the Woods. Leigh also has served on the Muni's Board of Managers.
Rebecca is 1/3 of the talented Watts sisters. Rebecca made her Muni debut in the chorus of 1978's Carousel. Since then, she has vocal directed, accompanied, propped, and served on the Board of Managers, including a term as President. Rebecca has performed such roles as Tuptim in 1983's The King and I, Lucinda in 1991's Into the Woods and Sister Sarah Brown in 1997's Guys and Dolls. She was last seen on the Muni stage as Ida in 2004's Honk! Even though she has since moved out of the area, she always makes sure she attends a Muni show if she's visiting her family during the summer. Her husband, Richard Garretson still occasionally comes back to play trump in the orchestra for some shows.
Tiffany’s involvement with Muni began when she was cast as Marty in 2000’s Grease. Tiffany has performed in many shows over the years. She has performed such favorite roles as Aida in 2006’s Aida and Miss Hannigan in 2018’s Annie. She has also performed in the orchestra for Jekyll & Hyde and Little Shop of Horrors. She has also been a volunteer working in concessions, ushering and driving the golf cart. Tiffany is currently serving on the Muni’s Board of Managers.
Craig currently is serving as President of the Board of Managers for the 2020-2021 season. Craig made his Muni debut in My Fair Lady in 2003. Since then, in addition to performing, Craig has directed a number of shows, assistant directed, scenic designed and worn many other hats for the organization.
Cynda has been involved with the Muni since 1978. She made her Muni stage debut in the chorus of Sweet Charity. Since then, she has played many lead roles including Guenevere in 1982's Camelot, Eliza Doolittle in 1989's My Fair Lady, The Baker's Wife in 1991's Into the Woods, Dolly Levi in 1994's Hello, Dolly! and Desiree Armfeldt in 2001's A Little Night Music. She has also been assistant director several times. Her last appearance on the Muni stage was as Mrs. Potts in 2012's Disney's Beauty and the Beast.