By: Suzanne Vanderhoef
The transformational otherworldliness of attending a production at the Muny comes not only from the soaring musical numbers and the vast, open-air set, but also in large part to the elaborate costumes. And, for more than half of the Muny’s 100 year history, one man was responsible for overseeing all those costumes: Pete Messineo.
Messineo began his 63-year long career at the Muny in 1949 at age 20. But before moving backstage – first as a stage manager then later as head of wardrobe – Pete was a singer in the ensemble for 6 seasons, performing in 11 shows per season.
“When they selected you back then, you did the whole summer,” Messineo explained. “It was considered summer theater – summer stock. They would bring in the leads… but you would have stock people here. You would have a stock singing baritone, you’d have a stock soprano, a stock contralto, a stock character actor and they would do a role every week.”
But it was the wardrobe department – coordinating and overseeing an average of 350 costumes per show: from hats to shoes and everything in between – where Pete was truly in his element
“Let’s say that we had a show on the boards, a show that was playing,” said Messineo. “We’d be working on the morning portion of that, the seamstresses coming in to do the repairs from the night before. But then you’d have another section of seamstresses – stitchers, they’re called today – working on the show that’s going to be in dress rehearsal and open Saturday night.”
Pete learned how to stitch working in his father’s shoe repair shop on Pine Street across from the old Arcade Building in downtown St. Louis, starting at age 9 sewing on leather, and from there drifting into sewing clothes.
And although he spent several winters in New York and had opportunities to go to other theaters, every summer Pete came back to St. Louis and his Muny family.
“I came back because my family was here and because it was the best theater in the United States to work summer theater,” says Messineo. “There’s nothing that could or still can compare with St. Louis. It’s the greatest.”