By Lynn Venhaus
A longtime Muny performer, Alex Prakken left his native St. Louis to grow his musical theater aspirations, but his heart is at home on the local stages that have meant so much to him.
Prakken will star alongside Mikaela Bennett in the eighth installment of its off-season concert series, Muny Magic at The Sheldon, on Tuesday and Wednesday, Nov. 5 and 6, at 7:30 p.m.
“The Muny is such a special place, not just for me, but for
many,” he said. “I always wanted to go to New York. And The Muny definitely
helped me to get to where I needed to be in singing, acting and dancing. And I
got to watch these phenomenal actors on that stage, work with them, and learn
Prakken replaces Jason Gotay, who was cast as Che in the upcoming New York City Encores! Production of “Evita” and had to withdraw. Gotay appeared as Prince Topher in “Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella,” as Prince Eric in “Disney’s The Little Mermaid” and Jack in “Into the Woods” at The Muny.
“We’re so grateful to Alex for joining this always joyous and magical night,” said Muny Artistic Director and Executive Producer Mike Isaacson. “Alex thrilled audiences last season in 1776 and his performance as Marius in Les Misérables remains a Muny favorite. I’m sure he and Mikaela will make serious magic.”
A former Muny Kid and Muny Teen, Prakken said he was thrilled to return to the Muny as the Courier in “1776,” singing the signature solo “Momma Look Sharp,” after an absence of six years.
“It was nice to be back for ‘1776,’” he said. “It’s such a special song, such a special show. It really sticks with you.”
He had participated as the Courier in a concert version at 54 Below in New York City, which takes place every Fourth of July.
Prakken, a graduate of The John Burroughs School and University of Michigan, was previously in a much heralded “Les Miserables” as Maurius at the Muny in 2013.
“I’ll never forget that. I had never seen an audience so enamored with a show,” he said. The audience leapt to its feet after “One Day More.”
“It was the perfect show for the Muny – on that big stage with a big cast,” he said.
After that, he went on to the first national tour of “Newsies” as Oscar Delancey and as Jack Kelly’s understudy as well as Davey’s, stopping at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis.
“Playing the Fox was crazy. We spent a year playing in really big houses, 2500-3000, but the Fox is practically double in size. It’s the biggest one we played,” he said.
While growing up, The Fox was where he saw his first touring shows.
“It was a shining beacon of theater, but I took it for granted. It is a stunning theater, so freaking beautiful, big and cavernous. Performing there, it really did feel majestic, very special,” he said.
He played Jack Kelly at La Mirada Playhouse in California, and at the Paramount Theatre in Chicago. He has toured as Jesus in “Jesus Christ Superstar” and as Roger in “Grease.”
Now living in New York City, Prakken said he’s been fortunate to be working steadily, but enjoys returning home for a break around the holidays. Since early May, “I’ve been going non-stop.”
His agent sends him out on auditions for things he may be right for – “it’s about who they happen to be looking for,” he said. “It’s often being at the right place at the right time. I’m starting to get noticed by casting directors. It’s about knowing who they can trust.”
He and Bennett, who had never met before, were rehearsing the week before the shows.
“She has a lovely voice, it gave me chills – really spectacular,” he said.
Bennett played the title character in Rodger and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella” last summer and is a graduate of The Juilliard School, known for her work on stage and concert halls. She won a Lincoln Center Award for Emerging Artists this year.
Her credits include Maria in “West Side Story” at the Lyric Opera of Chicago and in concert performances at the BBC Proms, New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. She has appeared at the Kennedy Center and Carnegie Hall.
She originated both the role of Norma in the off-Broadway production of “Renascence” and the title role of Acquanetta at the Prototype Festival.
Michael Baxter is directing the show and frequent Muny
music director Charlie Alterman is directing the music.
Prakken said they have come up with solos and duets to reflect their strengths, the new season, Muny classics and shows they have been in around the country.
“What felt best for us,” he said.
The timeless music of Leonard Bernstein, Harold Arlen, Jason Robert Brown and Rodgers and Hammerstein is among the selections. Bennett and Prakken will be accompanied by a trio: Charlie Alterman (music director and piano), Nick Savage (drums) and Vince Clark (bass).
The concert will feature Broadway hits including “If I Loved You” (“Carousel”), “How Could I Ever Know” (“The Secret Garden”), “One Second and A Million Miles” (“The Bridges of Madison County”) and a medley from “West Side Story.”
In addition to the performances, Isaacson will reveal the line-up for the much-anticipated 2020 summer season, its 102nd.
“It’s a very exciting season next year,” Prakken said — while not revealing anything.
“Mike is so supportive. There is a whole other level of care at the Muny,” he said, noting that Isaacson comes to rehearsals, making sure people have what they need to put on a good show.
“It’s just such a great place,” he said. “In St. Louis, it’s a cultural event. People come two and a half hours early to listen to music, watch the young people perform. I hope we can make a little bit of Muny Magic at the Sheldon. It’s really a knockout place.”
He has sung at the Sheldon before, too, for a senior recital.
“It was an awesome night,” he said.
Muny Magic at The Sheldon is sponsored by The Kranzberg Arts Foundation. The Sheldon is located at 3648 Washington Boulevard in St. Louis.
Tickets are available now and range from $25 to $50. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.muny.org/munymagic or call 314-534-1111.
For more information about The Muny, visit muny.org