The Encores! production of Anyone Can Whistle has been closed for a mere two weeks and I can’t stop thinking about Donna Murphy’s triumphant turn as Mayoress Cora Hoover-Hooper. In the last line of my assessment of the production, I speculated as to whom we’d have to talk to in order to mount a major revival of Mame showcasing Murphy.
With her performance fresh on my mind, as well as the second Broadway revival of La Cage Aux Folles settling in with great notices, I’ve been thinking more and more about Murphy taking on the role of that great bohemian aunt. I’m not the only one who has thought so. The other night I was talking about this with die hard “Mame-ist” SarahB, who has come up with a grassroots campaign slogan “Murphy for Mame!”
And why not? After the last La Cage revival, the Nederlanders promised to revive both Mame and Hello, Dolly! successively. I’m sure the failure of that production had something to do with putting the kibbosh on their Herman project. Both shows have only been seen in their original productions, or in replications of their original productions and it’s time to pass along both treasures to a new generation of theatre kids who think Idina Menzel is the epitome of Broadway belting (saints preserve us!)
I went into further detail last September pondering who would be the right actress for the part. When you look at our leading ladies, it’s easier to find a Dolly or a Vera, but Mame requires an alchemical element to pull off successfully – that unspeakable star quality that Lansbury brought to NY in 1966. She’s funny, sexy, larger-than-life, the belle of the ball; the ideal aunt that we all wish we could have. But she’s also got an immense heart, a fiery liberal passion and is well, a borderline alcoholic in an idealized world where that’s just part of the fun. All of this is rolled into one strikingly costumed, timeless creation of sheer theatrical joy. The shoes are not easy to fill.
Murphy is fearless, versatile and brilliant. Yes, she missed performances of Wonderful Town. However those critics are quick to harp on her attendance record even after it turned out she was seriously sick and could have permanently damaged her voice. I say, cut the lady some slack and welcome her back. This is a woman who was able to bring the Mayoress Hoover Hooper, who’s more a cartoon than character, to genuine tears while singing “A Parade in Town.”
Like the role’s originator, Angela Lansbury, Murphy is mindbogglingly versatile and there is very little she can’t do. With the right director (maybe Nicholaw? we can decide that later), we’d have a production of Mame for the 21st century. I’m convinced there is – at this moment – no other musical theatre actress who could successfully pull off one of the most iconic leading lady roles in musical theatre.