When Bette takes time off from mega-hit Hello Dolly! on Broadway, guess who steps in? And who could even hope to come close to filling her shoes?
Thank goodness the producers (and Donna Murphy fans) knew who to call. Here's what the incomparable Ms. Murphy brings to the part, says critic David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter in his smart and enthusiastic rave review:
Alternate casting doesn't get more deluxe than Donna Murphy, who's been stepping in during vacation weeks for Bette Midler and will continue to play the title role at Tuesday performances of Hello, Dolly! Midler received a welcome virtually unparalleled on Broadway in recent years, making Jerry Zaks' sumptuous revival the event of the 2016-17 season. Molding her star persona and her unique rapport with her audience to fit the title role of Jerry Herman's enduring 1964 good-time musical, she sent ticket demand through the roof. Murphy's fame might be more concentrated among theater lovers, but she brings her own megawatt glow; her peerless musical-comedy technique, deep-dish characterization and supple vocals are like a new coat of lacquer on a perfect production.
For those of us who've always admired Donna Murphy, fervent reviews like this are no surprise. She's been a cherished Broadway star since she stunned 1994 audiences — and won the Tony — in Sondheim and Lapine's Passion. But it's still gratifying to see such a skilled and beloved theatre pro getting kudos like this:
"I could stay here forever," vamps Murphy in the middle of a soft-shoe dance break flanked by handsome fellers. "I'm in a heaven sandwich!" That enthusiasm was contagious at a special Sunday-night performance packed with press and New York theaterati. The audience's roaring response from Murphy's first entrance to her final bow was only fitting for the return after a considerable absence of a two-time Tony Award winner and bona fide Broadway treasure, tackling her most comedic role since Wonderful Town in 2003. Cognoscenti also will have noted the poignancy of Murphy — whose husband, actor Shawn Elliott, died in March 2016 — playing a widow stepping forward to stake a fresh claim on life with renewed tenacity. That association made her delivery of "Before the Parade Passes By," full of yearning and determination, especially stirring.
The experience of seeing both Midler and Murphy defies comparison. Midler brings an intimate relationship with the audience honed over almost five decades of superstardom across multiple mediums. She's winking at us from behind the character, and we can't help but love her for it. Murphy also lets us know she's having a blast up there, but she does so while shaping a full-bodied character more distinct from herself. The musical remains a star showcase, but one that here nudges the material closer to its origins as a Thornton Wilder play.
So who could possibly ask for more?