DIVA TALK: Kennedy Center's Follies; Chatting with People in the Picture's Donna Murphy

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27 May 2011

Donna Murphy and Christopher Innvar in The People in the Picture.
photo by Joan Marcus

The multitalented singing actress Donna Murphy, who received her fifth Tony nomination May 3 for her performance in the new musical The People in the Picture, said she received that bit of good news via her iPhone.

"I had kissed my daughter as she left for school, for kindergarten, and Mommy went back to sleep, Daddy brought her to school, and then I did hear the phone making all kinds of sounds in the next room, and I was sort of in a semi-dream state," Murphy told me that May 3 morning. "Finally, I got up about 9:15, and the first message I listened to was from Todd Haimes, from the Roundabout, our artistic director, who left me a really beautiful message, and my phone had a lot of texts and e-mails.

"That was how I found out, and there's a part of me that feels a little embarrassed that I've never been awake any time that I've been doing a show that has been eligible to be nominated...I've always been grabbing every bit of sleep I could," Murphy added with a laugh, "and maybe there's that sense that if it happens, I'll find out. I don't want to really be waiting for the yay or the nay, and I've never had expectations. It's not a good way to go through life. It's nice to have goals, but not expectations, I think."

Murphy, who plays an American grandmother remembering her days in European Yiddish theatre, explained that "this is a role that's very different from anything I've ever done, and a show that I think is ... a daring show to try to do at this moment in time when most people, certainly in the musical world, probably would think they would prefer to see something that's light and fun and entertaining, which we all need, God knows. I think this show has those elements, but it's also telling a really beautiful story, and a really complicated story, and I really feel blessed to have the opportunity to play this character. It's a role that I read and I went, 'Wow, I don't know if I can do that!' That's always a big hook for me," Murphy laughed. "'I don't know if I could do that. Oh crap, I'm probably going to try!' So I'm honored to have been acknowledged for it and be in the company of some really radiant women, both in this category and fantastic artists throughout, who are represented on Broadway this season."

Donna Murphy
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Although Murphy won Tony Awards for her performances in Passion and The King and I, she admitted, "It's funny because you think, 'I've done this before, so I should just be totally cool about it.' And there are parts of it that I'm very relaxed and enjoying the moment, and there are other things that I suddenly get all nervous and silly about. I think when it's connected to something, for me, part of a childhood dream — the hoping that I would be able to make a life in the theatre and be an actress — it's [more meaningful]. And, it's still happening. They haven't officially thrown me out yet," she laughed. "A few have tried. And I continue to be fortunate and have the opportunity to play really interesting characters, who sometimes get to sing — that's kind of amazing, you know. And be a part of these celebratory times — it's quite an honor, and I do have these moments where I can be really tired and be like, 'Oh God. I don't have anything to wear tomorrow. Crap, I've got to go find something,' and then it's kind of a pinch-me moment where I go, 'It's happening. It's happening again, and it's real,' and I can kind of flash-back to being five, six, seven-years-old and watching the Tonys at home, and being with my family, and dreaming, and hoping — not necessarily winning a Tony Award, but being an actress. It's still quite special."

Produced by Roundabout Theatre Company, in association with Tracy Aron, People in the Picture 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"). Performances continue through June 19.

[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).]

Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.

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