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.
Judy Wolfson Burnette
Judy was a Muni performer and stage manager for many years. Judy made her Muni stage debut in 1966 in My Fair Lady. She was asked to audition because they needed someone who could do an authentic cockney accent and teach others to do one. Judy was in many shows over the years. Her largest was role was that of Calamity Jane in Calamity Jane in 1976. Judy's last appearance on the Muni stage was that of the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz in 2003.
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.
Russ doesn't live in the Springfield area anymore, but he was a mainstay on the Muni stage during much of the 1980s. He made his Muni debut as James in Shenandoah in 1979. Later that summer he played Billy Bigelow in Carousel. Russ played such roles as Frank in Show Boat, Lieutenant Cable in South Pacific, Buddy Plummer in Follies and Juan Perón in the first production of Evita in 1985. His last role at Muni was Julian Marsh in 42nd Street in 1988. Russ also directed two productions for Muni, The Student Prince in 1983 and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers in 1986. Russ now resides in Louisville, Kentucky.
Deb Watts Elliott
Deb is one-third 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 Rothman Frachey
Sherry began her involvement with Muni when her dad, Bill Rothman, was cast as Harry MacAfee in the 1964 run of Bye Bye Birdie in Douglas Park. 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.
Gus has been a mainstay on the Muni stage since his debut in 1991. Gus made his Muni stage debut as Rapunzel's Prince in 1991's Into the Woods, opposite his wife Claire's Rapunzel. Since then, he has played many favorites such as Harold Hill in The Music Man, Bobby Child in Crazy for You, Max Bialystock in The Producers, and Oliver Warbucks in Annie. Gus was last seen as Captain Hook/Mr. Darling in our Peter Pan in 2019. Gus was the evening weatherman on News Channel 20 for many years. He is now the Executive Director for the Hoogland Center for the Arts.
Velma Bailey Goulet
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, as he did with 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 began working backstage during the 1966 season. He made his stage debut the following year in the chorus of Guys and Dolls. He has been a performer, musical director and director for 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.
Ed has been director, assistant director, choreographer and performer for many Muni shows. Ed made his Muni stage debut in Jesus Christ Superstar in 1986. Since then, he played such favorites as Captain Billy Buck Chandler in My One and Only in 1991, Will Rogers in The Will Rogers Follies in 1996, Albert Peterson in Bye Bye Birdie in 1998 and J. Pierrepont Finch in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying in 2001. He also directed our productions of The Unsinkable Molly Brown in 1992 and Cinderella in 2000.
Mary Beth Maloney
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, thus going 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 E. Myers
Mary is one-third 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 to the fact that he could dance well. He says that the chorus is where “you have the most fun.” Dennis was also a longtime Board of Managers member including serving as president several times. He is now a member of the Board of Trustees.
Gil & Ann Opferman
Anyone who's been involved with the Muni at some point during the last 20 years knows Gil & Ann. They have been performers, directors and volunteers with the Muni. Gil even served on the Board of Managers, including a year as president. Gil made his Muni stage debut in 1998 in the chorus of Fiddler on the Roof . Ann made her debut in Honk! in 2004. Gil & Ann co-directed Peter Pan together in 2013. Ann has stated that she's retired from concessions, but you'll still see Gil working in the concession stand. Gil currently runs the Senior Bus program for the Muni.
Paul Presney, Jr.
Paul’s involvement with Muni began when he and his sister Cathy were cast by Don Bailey in 1969’s Gypsy. Their mother, Jane, had a theatre background, so she became involved with Muni, too, directing many shows. Paul has performed in, directed, or designed many Muni shows over the years, including some of the biggest sets that the Muni has had, the set for Titanic, a show he also directed. Paul 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.
Deb has been a Muni performer since 1989. She made her Muni debut in the chorus of Fiddler on the Roof. She went full circle with that show playing Golde in our 2009 production. Since that debut, she has played a number of roles including Ziegfeld's Favorite in The Will Rogers Follies in 1996, Miss Adelaide in Guys and Dolls in 1997 and Velma Von Tussle in Hairspray in 2011. Her last performance on the Muni stage was as Mother Superior in Sister Act in 2018. Deb currently serves on the Muni's Board of Managers and is president during the 2021-2022 season.
Don & Linda Schneider
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.
Carly is a longtime Muni performer and director. Carly made her Muni debut in 1983 in the children's chorus of The King and I. Carly's favorite show is Annie, in which she was an orphan in the first Muni production of this show in 1985 and directed our production in 2018. Carly directed her first Muni show in 2007 directing Grease. She also directed Oliver! in 2008 and Sweeney Todd in 2016. Carly has a degree in theatre from Northwestern University, and is the Assistant Director of Operations for the UIS Performing Arts Center.
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.
If you don't know Melody, then you don't know Springfield area theatre. Melody has been the props designer for countless Springfield area shows. What many people might not know is that Melody has also done a bit of performing. Melody made her Muni stage debut in the chorus of Sweet Charity in 1978. Her last onstage performance at Muni was in Hans Christian Andersen in 1993. That was when she turned her focus to props. Melody loves to create things and uses that creativity to create many cool props.
Ada Lynn Shrewsbury
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 during the first run of the Muni in the 1950s when he was a teenager! Gary is an accomplished teacher and choreographer. Many of his students have gone on to very successful careers on Broadway and in professional theatre.
Gary no longer lives in the Springfield area, but he was heavily involved with the Muni throughout the later part of the 1970s through the 1980s. Gary was a vocal music teacher with the Rochester High School and later Glenwood High School. He made his Muni debut as the vocal director for Bye Bye Birdie in 1976. Gary later went on to direct many shows, including Carousel in 1979 , Show Boat in 1980, Grease in 1981, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in both 1983 and 1989, Evita in 1985, and The Wiz in 1987. Gary also served on the Muni's Board of Managers, including a stint as president. Gary left Springfield in 1991 and moved to Los Angeles where he taught at the prestigious Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. His star pupil was Josh Groban, whom Gary cast as Tevye in a production of Fiddler on the Roof. Groban credits Gary as a teacher that deeply influenced him. Gary is now retired.