The People in the Picture, a Musical Snapshot of Family Secrets, Opens on Broadway

By Kenneth Jones
28 Apr 2011

Donna Murphy and Christopher Innvar
Donna Murphy and Christopher Innvar
Photo by Joan Marcus

The People in the Picture, the new original musical starring Tony Award winner Donna Murphy as an American grandmother remembering her days as a star in European Yiddish theatre and film, opens on Broadway April 28 following previews from April 1 at Studio 54.

Produced by Roundabout Theatre Company, in association with Tracy Aron, the musical has libretto and lyrics by Iris Rainer Dart (the novelist of "Beaches") and music by Mike Stoller (Smokey Joe's Café) and Artie Butler (who wrote the pop standard "Here's to Life").

The "bubbie" of the 1970s and the diva of the 1930s are played by one woman — Murphy, the star of Broadway's Passion, The King and I, Wonderful Town and LoveMusik.

This world-premiere production is billed this way by the producers: "Once the darling of the Yiddish Theatre in pre-war Poland, now a grandmother in New York City, Bubbie [Donna Murphy] has had quite a life. But what will it all mean if she can't pass on her stories to the next generation? Though her granddaughter [Jenny, played by Rachel Resheff] is enchanted by her tales, her daughter Red [Nicole Parker] will do anything to keep from looking back. A fiercely funny and deeply moving new musical that spans three generations, The People in the Picture celebrates the importance of learning from our past, and the power of laughter."



The ambitious storytelling — taking place under an imposing gold frame that is the production's major scenic element — shifts from Jimmy Carter-era America to World War II-era Poland before and after Hitler's invasion, and is driven by several different musical styles (including American pop ballad and klezmer-kissed European uptempo songs). Projected animation is used to underscore mood and setting, and live video sequences (in black and white) recreate Polish films that the troupers make in the 1930s.

Dart told Playbill.com, "Both my parents were immigrants. My mother came over from Russia, my father from Lithuania. We had no money, but it was an idyllic childhood. I look back on it, and it's hard to figure out why. Eventually, I realized it was the sensibility of the Yiddish culture where there was so much laughter. There wasn't anything we couldn't turn into a joke. I spent my childhood laughing. That catapulted me into comedy writing. I'd learned to look at the world in a funny way."

Megan Reinking and Donna Murphy
photo by Joan Marcus

The cast, directed by Leonard Foglia (Master Class), also features Alexander Gemignani (Moishe), Christopher Innvar (Chaim), Hal Robinson (Doovie, Rabbi Velvel), Lewis J. Stadlen (Avram Krinsky), Joyce Van Patten (Chayesel), Chip Zien (Yossie Pinsker), Brad Bradley, Rachel Bress, Jeremy Davis, Emilee Dupre, Maya Goldman, Louis Hobson, Shannon Lewis, Jessica Lea Patty, Andie Mechanic, Megan Reinking, Jeffrey Schecter and Paul Anthony Stewart.

Musical direction is by Paul Gemignani, orchestrations by Michael Starobin and musical staging by Tony Award winner Andy Blankenbuehler (In the Heights).

The People in the Picture is a limited engagement scheduled to run through June 19.

Murphy won Best Actress Tony Awards for The King and I and Passion. This year, her voice was heard as villainess Mother Gothel in the Disney animated feature "Tangled." She was Tony-nominated for playing Ruth in Wonderful Town and for conjuring Lotte Lenya in LoveMusik. For the Encores! concert series, she starred in Anyone Can Whistle, Wonderful Town and Follies.

The creative team also includes Riccardo Hernandez (sets), Ann Hould-Ward (costumes), James F. Ingalls (lights), Dan Moses Schreier (sound), Elaine J. McCarthy (projections), Paul Huntley (hair and wigs) and Angelina Avallone (make-up).

The People in the Picture plays Tuesday through Saturday evenings at 8 PM with a Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday matinee at 2 PM.

Tickets ($37-$122) are available by calling Roundabout Ticket Services at (212) 719-1300, going online at www.roundabouttheatre.org or at the Studio 54 Box Office (254 West 54th Street).

View highlights from the show: