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Inside the brain of Beth Leavel, Tony award-winning actress and inspiration for ‘Muny Magic'

If Tony award-winning actress Beth Leavel says it, let it be so: She says that her role as Dolly in The Muny’s 2014 production of “Hello Dolly!” is one of her top roles of all time. Interestingly enough, it is also the first role she would like to slip back into, given the chance.

“It affects your DNA, living and embodying these roles,” Leavel said on Friday’s “Cityscape.” “There are certain roles I would like to do again, because I’m wiser or understand more. I constantly want to do Dolly because each time I do it, it changes. It is one of those beautiful roles that has surprises in it that make it so wonderful to live in and inhabit.”

Although she won’t be returning as Dolly, Leavel is making a Muny return in the organization’s newest musical series, “Muny Magic at the Sheldon,” which will feature a different star Muny performer in the fall and spring at the Sheldon Concert Hall.

“A couple of years ago, I noticed that there are certain performers, certain artists on stage where I feel the audience connect in a very special way,” said Mike Isaacson, the artistic director and executive producer of the Muny. “It’s magical and Beth was one of those performers from day one.”

Leavel, who has also starred in the Muny’s “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” “Nunsense, Muny Style!,” and “Oklahoma!,” said she couldn’t be more excited to return to perform for the Muny audience.

“I have such a special relationship and an unexplained bonding with the audience,” Leavel said. “I can’t wait to be intimate with them in this beautiful space as Beth Leavel, not as Aunt Eller or Dolly Levy. It’s a real privilege for me. I feel such a connection to those people, for the specialness of the Muny.”

Leavel won a Tony for featured best actress in a musical for the role of Beatrice Stockwell in “The Drowsy Chaperone,” a role she conceptualized and made sure that no two nights of the performance were ever the same.

“It’s always a privilege to do an original show, particularly one that is written for you,” Leavel said. “The page was blank for this woman and the creative team and I gave birth to [Beatrice]. We worked really hard for four months and I felt such ownership.”

Leavel has become known in the Broadway community for crafting roles into inception and is sought out to do “readings,” which are done before a writer and director before the musical or play is cast and released for audience conception.

“In the Broadway community, she’s constantly called out for readings and to be part of new shows because she is so talented,” Isaacson said. “As a writer and a producer, you’re trying to figure out what a show is to have someone of Beth’s talent and caliber and insight creating a part or as you’re developing it, reading it, you learn so much.”

Up next for Leavel? What else—an original production of “Bandstand,” a new musical directed and choreographed by the choreographer of “Hamilton,” which premiered at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey in October.  The musical is produced by Terry Schnuck, and follows the journey of World War II vets who join together to compete in a radio contest.

Before that show takes off, however, Leavel will be in St. Louis next Wednesday and Thursday to trade stories and sing for the Muny.

“I have some great stories,” Leavel said. “It will be live and in the moment and God only knows what will happen.”

Related Event

What: MUNY Magic at the Sheldon
When: Nov. 11 and 12 at 8:00 p.m.
Where: Sheldon Concert Hall, 3648 Washington Blvd, St. Louis, MO 63108
More information.  

“Cityscape” is produced by Mary EdwardsAlex Heuer, and Kelly Moffitt. The show is sponsored in part by the Missouri Arts Council, the Regional Arts Commission, and the Arts and Education Council of Greater St. Louis.    

Kelly Moffitt joined St. Louis Public Radio in 2015 as an online producer for St. Louis Public Radio's talk shows St. Louis on the Air.