Lara, Elizabeth Teeter bring talents to “The Little Mermaid”

PHOTO CONTRIBUTED BY LARRY PRY, THE MUNY Conservatory professor, Lara Teeter performs with his daughter, Elizabeth, in “The Little Mermaid.” Lara Teeter played Scuttle and Elizabeth Teeter played Flouder. “The Little Mermaid” was at The Muny from July 6-14.

Lara Teeter grew up seeing his father, a Methodist minister, watching comedians like Dick Van Dyke and Red Skelton on television. This sparked Teeter’s interest in acting. His love for performing was solidified when he played the part of the Scarecrow in a school performance of “The Wizard of Oz” when he was 14.

“That’s what really kicked it off for me,” Teeter said. “From there, I was hooked.”

Teeter, a 56-year-old musical theatre professor, has been performing at The Muny for 22 summers. After earning a degree in theater from Oklahoma City University, Teeter moved to New York City and eventually to California. His run with The Muny began with an encounter with artistic director Paul Blake when the two were in California.

“I was in a dance studio there with my tap shoes in my hands and I came around a corner, and I literally bumped into this gentleman (Paul Blake),” Teeter said. “He stopped and said, ‘Why, you’re Lara Teeter.’ He had seen me perform in New York and was aware of my work as an actor, and he offered me a job on the spot. The truth is I’ve never auditioned for Paul Blake.”

Blake has been directing Muny productions ever since, with Teeter performing for the last 10 consecutive summers while also taking breaks to pursue other endeavors. This season was Blake’s last at The Muny. Performing at The Muny alongside Blake is a tradition that Teeter began 22 years ago, and has since passed on to his four young children.

“I feel like it’s very special for our family because I got to begin my time here with Paul and I get to be a part of Paul’s last season,” Teeter said. “But what’s more important is that he’s gotten to know my daughter and my family.”

Along with playing the lead in this summer’s rendition of “Bye Bye Birdie,” Teeter also played the part of Scuttle in “The Little Mermaid,” alongside his 9-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, who played Flounder. Elizabeth has performed at The Muny with her father for the past three summers.

“Elizabeth also has that ‘It’ factor,” Denny Reagan, Muny president and CEO said. “That girl is just incredible. She has this natural ability that takes other actors 30 or 40 years to figure out. In ‘The Little Mermaid’, [Elizabeth and Lara] had a scene together, and it was just great to see those two professionals, two generations, feeding off each other. It’s just in the gene pool.”

Elizabeth’s twin brother Charlie also performed  in “The Beauty and the Beast” last summer with Elizabeth and their father. Teeter’s other two children, Katherine, 5, and Maggie, 2, are awaiting their chance to perform.

“I can’t wait to see Katherine perform,” Reagan said. “She has the talent just like her sister. She’s like a race horse, just waiting to come out of the gates.”

Having an adjunct theater staff is an aspect that Teeter feels sets Webster apart from other universities.

“At Webster, I teach it. At the Muny, I do it,” Teeter said. “I think that’s what is really great about the faculty as a whole in the Conservatory is that every one of us in the performance faculty, we actually practice what we preach. We actually work professionally in the theater. I think that’s a real plus and it’s one of the reasons we attract such phenomenal students on a national level.”

Now that Teeter has a family and a career in St. Louis, he is not looking to travel for work. He feels fortunate to have The Muny close to home.

Other faculty members at Webster, including Gary Glasgow and Steve Schenkel, also performed at the Muny in the summer. Glasgow is a fellow actor, and Schenkel plays guitar in the orchestra.

“Gary is at the center of our performance faculty,” Teeter said. “He is the perfect balance between scholarship and performance, discipline and practice. And, even though we don’t really cross paths much at Webster, I can always count on a thumbs up from Steve when we gesture to the orchestra for their bow at the end of each Muny performance.”

For Teeter, being able to teach musical theater professionally is still something relatively new. He thinks of himself as only the second generation of musical theater teachers, because when he was in college only two schools were offering the major. However, Teeter is eager to see the program grow.

“It’s very exciting to be part of such a wonderful tradition,” Teeter said.

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