DIVA TALK: Catching Up With Closer Than Ever, Wicked and Wild Party Star Julia Murney

By Andrew Gans
03 Aug 2012

David Shire and Richard Maltby, Jr.
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Question: Have you started rehearsals yet?
Murney: Yes. I started last Monday, and I go in a week from today [on Aug. 6]. Jackie Piro Donovan, who's taking over for Christiane—she goes in Friday [Aug. 3]. She is my hero because she had a job...she was in Boston almost all of last week. She only had a few hours of rehearsal, and that was it. And, she has to go in sooner than I do! [Laughs.] I utterly bow down to her.

Question: Who are you working with as a director?
Murney: It's Richard Maltby, who wrote the [lyrics].

Question: What's he like to work with?
Murney: He's great. The thing about this show is it's really about the individuals who are singing it… He has little things that he likes, and he'll tell you those things, and you just incorporate them, but he's open to the songs being interpreted. They don't have to be what she did, which is what she did, which is what she did. So that part is very nice.

Question: What's it like working on a song with someone who also co-wrote the song?
Murney: I've had that occasion in the past. I think the biggest thing I find I have to do is, in a weird way, you have to forget about it for a second because you don't often have the writer directing you. That part's different, so I'm not thinking of Richard as the guy who wrote it. I'm thinking of him as the guy who oversees this and tells me what he wants. And, I find that the writers that I get to work with who are open to interpretation, it makes it a lot more fun for me. Not to take it to a crazy place where it doesn't even sound like the song anymore, but you get to feel your way through and find your own stamp on it—that's what makes it fun. And, to work with writers who are very, very precise about every little dotted note, that makes it a little more difficult. It's another way of figuring things out, but it's really joyful when… I would assume, for them, it takes a certain amount of healthy ego to be able to say, "Let me let the singer find their way before I say anything" as opposed to jumping right in five notes in and going, "Oh, can you…" But in terms of Richard directing it and having written it, I just think of him as, "This is his show, and he knows it really well, so I shall follow."

Murney in Wicked.
photo by Joan Marcus

Question: I would think that if you had a lyric question, "What does this lyric mean?"… there's no better person than…
Murney: That is true, and there's absolutely been those questions, no doubt. Also, it's different when you're going into something, be it a show like this that's existed for these many years… The only other show that I've been put into was Wicked. And, this show…they've changed a few things here and there to sort of update it. Most of it just sticks, you don't need to touch it. But the feeling of exploration, "What does that mean?" and "Can it mean this?," existed a little bit, I think, with Closer Than Ever before I got to it, but with it now and frankly with something like Wicked, it is what it is. And, you have to figure out why you sing it because the question of "Why do I sing that?" almost becomes void because that's what you have to sing. Somebody else figured it out, and then you have to figure it out for yourself, so it's an interesting sort of jigsaw puzzle.

Question: Have you gotten a chance to work with the two actors yet?
Murney: I have a little bit. I mean, I know them both, which makes life simply easier. And, on one day last week, George came in for an hour, and on another day, Sal came in for an hour just to sort of touch on the things that we do together… The solo numbers are one thing, but the group numbers, with maybe one exception, are all four people. It's hard because it's just myself and Emily [Morgan], the choreographer's associate, who is teaching me everything. So you're just sitting there going, "Hmm… I know there are people around me, but I don't know where they go." And, she's running around, and she's trying to be all the different people, so she'll move, and I'm like, "Oh, do I move now?" And, she goes, "No, no. Sorry. I'm just being someone else." [Laughs.] It'll become a lot clearer… I'm not worried… [Laughs.] These are going to be famous last words… I'm not really worried about the staging. The staging is okay, and none of it is too particularly complicated, but it is so lyric heavy, and the group numbers are a test for your brain.