DIVA TALK: Chatting with Lysistrata Jones Star Patti Murin

News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.

Patti Murin
Patti Murin

PATTI MURIN
About five hours before it was announced that the new Broadway musical Lysistrata Jones would end its run at the Walter Kerr Theatre Jan. 8, I had the pleasure of chatting with the good-spirited Patti Murin, who has been with the production since it debuted at the Dallas Theatre Center (where the show was called Give It Up!) through its Off-Broadway engagement with the Transport Group this past summer (when the show was staged in a Greenwich Village gymnasium) to Broadway. Murin, who made her Broadway debut in Xanadu, stars in the title role of Lysistrata Jones, an energetic, feel-good musical that features a comedic book by Xanadu Tony nominee Douglas Carter Beane and an infectious pop score by promising newcomer Lewis Flinn. Directed and choreographed by Dan Knechtges, the musical, which is very loosely based on the 411 B.C. Greek play Lysistrata, casts Murin as a cheerleader who will do anything — including withholding sex to inspire lackluster basketball players — to boost her team to victory. Singing actress Murin, who possesses a sweet upper register buttressed by a powerful belt, spoke about her current role, her own cheerleading history, her Main Stem debut, her marriage to fellow Broadway actor Curtis Holbrook and more; that interview follows.

Question: Since we haven't spoken before, let's go back to the beginning. Where were you born and raised?
Patti Murin: I was born and raised in a small — but awesome — town, a little bit upstate, called Hopewell Junction, NY. It's about 70 miles north of here.

Question: When did you start performing?
Murin: I'm going to say the sixth grade play. It was Cinderella, and I was a mouse. [Laughs.] And, then I kind of never stopped.

Question: Who were the actors or singers that you admired growing up or those who may have influenced you?
Murin: Let's see… You know, none really off the top of my head. We grew up so close to the city, I did get to come and go see Broadway shows a lot, but there were never any theatre actors that [influenced me]. I watched all of the old movie musicals. Julie Andrews, she could be a good one — the classic… I loved "The Sound of Music" growing up. I loved pretty much anything she was in. It was probably more movies that got me than people. "Peter Pan" — I remember watching that with my family with popcorn a couple times a year. [Laughs.] "Babes in Toyland." I loved that… My dad was really good about showing us all the classics.

Murin and cast receive coaching from NBA Hall of Famer Chris Mullin
photo by Krissie Fullerton

Question: Were your parents involved in the arts at all?
Murin: Not really, no. My mom — not at all. My dad did a couple school shows growing up, but other than that, they just really have always liked the theatre and have always liked going to theatre, so I was lucky that way. No one else in my family really does theatre except for me — at all. [Laughs.] Question: When did performing change from a hobby to when you knew it was going to be your career?
Murin: Probably in high school, I guess… Actually, my cousin was planning on going to school for musical theatre, and also another girl, and it was the first time I realized that I could go to school to actually study that and do that for the rest of my life. I got really great grades, was really smart, but there was nothing that I was interested in actually doing for the rest of my life and actually pursuing. So, yeah, probably high school.

Question: Did you go to college for musical theatre?
Murin: I did. I ended up going to Syracuse University and majoring in musical theatre — yup.

Question: When did you get to New York City? What was your first professional job?
Murin: I stayed non-Equity for a couple of years because I had been warned of the ways [that turning] Equity could, sort of, essentially, end your career for a little while before it actually began again. So, I wanted to stay non-Equity and do some shows and some great roles before I got into the real actual meat of the business. I ended up doing a few shows down at a theatre in Florida called the Stage Door Theatre in Fort Lauderdale, and my first show was Crazy for You. I played Polly.

Question: What was your first Broadway show?
Murin: My first Broadway show was Xanadu in 2007.

Question: You were Kerry Butler's understudy, right?
Murin: I was. I actually started out as a swing for the first six months and then, after Anika Larsen left — she was Kerry's main understudy and she had her own track — they offered me her role. For the rest of the next year, I ended up doing that, and I went on for Kerry probably about 35 and 40 times.

Murin backstage at Xanadu.

Question: So, you got to do it quite a bit.
Murin: I did. I did. It was pretty great. She's so wonderful. She likes to go on vacation. She has her family, so I had a lot of opportunities when she would take time off. She never gets sick. [Laughs.]

Question: Do you remember the first night you went on for her? What that was like being a lead in a Broadway show?
Murin: Oh my gosh, yes. It was planned, which was good. Like I said, she never got sick, so that was nice — I never got thrown on at the last minute. It was planned, so I got an official put-in [rehearsal]. I got to actually run through it with the cast and costumes and everything before I actually had to do it. It was a Sunday afternoon performance, and I just remember, everyone would come up through that trap door, and [my character] was the last one to come up, and I remember standing there by myself with the stage manager and being like, "Oh God, I can run right now!" [Laughs.] I was like, "I don't have to do this," and then I was like, "Of course I have to do this." It was great! [Laughs.] It was such a classic "holy crap" moment! You know, "I can't believe this is [happening]!" The cast was amazing. Every time anyone had to go on, they were so amazing about adapting and giving you some leniency and some leeway and "shoving with love," as we like to call it — getting it in the right spot and helping you out if you trip up at all. She was away for a whole week that time, so I got to go on nine times in a row and really get it in my body, so it was pretty great.

Question: Was your family there for that first performance?
Murin: I wouldn't let them come until the third performance. [Laughs.] Because I knew I had nine, I was like, "I don't want that added pressure," and my boyfriend, who is now my husband, Curtis Holbrook, was in the show. I was like, "I already have to do this in front of him so…" [Laughs.] That was already enough pressure for that, so they were good, they were very good about it.

Murin and Andrew Rannells in the Dallas production of Give It Up!
photo by Brandon Thibodeaux

Question: How did Lysistrata come about?
Murin: I think it was during Xanadu or right after Xanadu closed — probably right after Xanadu closed, yes. It was written by Douglas Carter Beane — same writer as Xanadu — and his partner had written all the music for it, and they were doing one-day table reads and choreography workshops with Dan Knechtges, who was directing Lysistrata and had also choreographed [ Xanadu]… It was, essentially, a big chunk of the Xanadu family, so they would kind of get their friends together and get people they knew together to sit down for a day and read through the script or try out some dance moves actually in the gym that we did the show in last spring. That went on for about a year, and when we knew we were doing the show, I knew I was going to be doing it, but I didn't know what role. They had me come in and read, and that was actually the first time I ever read for Lysistrata, and I ended up only reading for that part and actually getting that part later that day, so that worked out well. [Laughs.]

Question: You had an out-of-town tryout first?
Murin: Yes, we were in Dallas. It was called Give It Up then, but then the name was really confusing because people kept thinking of Bring It On… Anytime anyone would talk about it, they'd be like Give It On? Bring It Up? That's why they ended up changing the name to Lysistrata Jones. [Laughs.] They wanted to avoid all confusion of cheerleading musicals. We went to Dallas. Pretty much, there were 12 people in the cast, and two-thirds of the cast was different down there. By the time we got back up here, and we're doing it again a year later, people had other jobs and had moved on to other shows, so they ended up recasting most of it, but four of us stayed on throughout the entire thing: me and Liz Mikel, who plays Hetaira, and Lindsay Chambers, who plays Robin, and Katie Boren, who plays Lampito.

Murin and Josh Segarra in Lysistrata Jones.
photo by Joan Marcus

Question: How much has the show changed from that initial run to Off-Broadway to Broadway? What have been the major changes as you see it?
Murin: I would say the bones of it are the same, I guess… It's so funny because people from the Dallas cast have come to see it, and I think about it, and there are chunks that are exactly the same — I mean whole songs that are almost exactly the same — and, then there are things that are so different. I mean, they mess a little bit with the order of things. They put a song in the second act instead of the first act, and they actually changed the entire ending. They changed the whole ending, which forced me to have to learn to play basketball. The ending used to be very different, and I used to stay a cheerleader the entire time, but now that is no longer the case, and I have to play basketball. So, that was a major change. That was, I think, the biggest change. It brought the whole show sort of full circle in terms of my character's story, and finishing up for everyone else's journey. Other than that, the feel of some scenes are different. The girls used to just be an awesome cheerleading squad and now they're makeshift cheerleaders… It's stuff like that. It's scrappier now, I would say, the team itself. The school itself, the cheerleaders, we're all a little bit more — we're less put together. [Laughs.] Oh, and my entire Act One closer that I sing, which is called the same thing — "Where Am I Now" — is essentially a totally different song.

Question: How did that change?
Murin: It's basically the same lyrics — sort of — but it goes a lot deeper this time, whereas before it was a little more straight-forward, now it's a little more complicated in terms of emotional arcs. And, I belt a lot higher than I used to! [Laughs.] Question: How would you describe Lysistrata?
Murin: Lysistrata is very bubbly. The first word that comes to anyone's mind when they think of her is sort of a ditz — sort of like an airhead. But she's not. She's actually a really smart airhead, if you're going to call her an airhead at all. She is really passionate. She has a lot of street smarts, and she has a lot of great ideas; she's never happy to be just sitting in one place. She always needs to be working on something and trying to make the world a better place or trying to make other people better people. She's really driven and really ambitious and never content to just sit and have life the way it is and let the days go by and make do with stuff. She wants life and she wants people and their experiences to be everything that they can be. She's really quirky. She's got a great sense of humor, and she may not know everything and she may not know a lot of actual facts, but what she uses her brain power for is, I think, a lot more important than knowing every fact in the book.

Lindsay Nicole Chambers, Patti Murin and LaQuet Sharnell in Lysistrata Jones.
photo by Joan Marcus

Question: Do you have a favorite moment for her in the show — something you look forward to?
Murin: Well, lots of favorite moments! One of my favorite ones is actually one of the newer sequences that we put in probably like three days before we froze the show this time around — it's a little part in the library. The whole library scene with Lindsay Chambers I just love to death. It's so funny and so clever. It starts off the show, and it really gets the audience knowing what the feel of the show is going to be and what to expect, what kind of jokes. There's a new song — they call it a songlet because it's not a whole song — that's just basically with Lindsay and I, the characters of Robin and Lysistrata. It sort of brings them to a deeper level for a minute before you get back to the funny, to sort of ground the show, and she gives a little bit of her back-story of why she wants to do this so bad. One major question is: "Why does she care if the basketball team wins at all?" She basically tells Robin that life has not been easy with her parents and switching schools — she's a transfer student, and why she had to switch schools. They get to have a serious moment before things get all wacky again. I love, love that part because I love listening to the audience after they've been laughing for a minute or two, sort of get quiet — you can hear them listening, it's really interesting. It's really neat. And then, you finish it off with a big joke… I think it gets the job done of sort of getting deeper into [the characters] so [the audience is] a little more invested in her journey along the way.

Question: Were you ever a cheerleader?
Murin: Oh, yes. [Laughs.] Yes, I was! Let's see, in eighth grade, my dad got mad at me because I tried out for the cheerleading squad instead of Bye Bye Birdie, our school musical. But now, I'm like, "Dad, it totally paid off!" because that kicked off my whole cheerleading journey. Then, in high school, I was captain of the cheerleading squad, and when I went to Syracuse, my freshman year, I was actually a cheerleader for the football team for that year. So, yes. I was a college cheerleader at Syracuse. [Laughs.] I've had a lot of practice. And, my personality is very much like… I always say, "Once a cheerleader, always a cheerleader." I am definitely a cheerleader. [Laughs.]

Patti Murin
photo by Joan Marcus

Question: What's it like revisiting that period of your life, but in musical form?
Murin: Honestly, one of the other parts that I really like about the show is getting to put my real cheerleading uniform back on because I don't think I'll ever get sick of doing that ever in my life. [Laughs.] Everyone's like, "What is it about cheerleading? What is it?" I actually love sports. I love sports so much. I love football and I love baseball. Obviously, now I love basketball… I really just like wearing that skirt. Whatever, call me an anti-feminist, but I just really like it! [Laughs.] It's one of the really girly things about me.

Question: I enjoyed the show, but I was wondering why do you think it's had a difficult time finding an audience even though some of the reviews have been great?
Murin: It used to be that you wait until opening night and it's like, "Oh, wait for the reviews. Oh, great reviews? We're totally set to go!" And, it's just not like that anymore. There's so much more that goes into it like social media, and there's so much more to compete with — with stars being in shows and stuff like that — and now people are used to having something to refer to when they go see a show… Like a revival, obviously, has already been out there. You can do lots of research on it. You can watch, usually, tapes of it from years ago. And, most of the new musicals out there are based on movies, so you can be like, "Oh, I know 'Shrek.' I'm going to see Shrek." And, so, for a new piece of theatre — you can say that we're based on Lysistrata, but A: how many people really, really, really know who Lysistrata is, and B: it's not something tangible. It's not like there was a huge movie of Lysistrata where people are like, "Oh, I saw that." There's really nothing — you'd have to do some serious research if you wanted to know what it's based on. And, if they're going to spend the kind of money that Broadway charges these days, they're more apt to see something that they kind of know what they're going to get as opposed to really taking a risk on something new, even if every single person around them is saying, "This show is awesome. This show is awesome." The fact is that not many people come to our show and don't like it. Everyone loves our show. All of last week it was all standing ovations. They just have so much fun. I think it's a combination of a lot of things. I just think that these days the climate for really truly new, original musical theatre is kind of grim, and I am, every day, hoping that it can be turned around. I was rooting for Bonnie & Clyde so hard —  so hard — because it would've proven a point. It was a great show and it deserved to stay open, and I feel the same way about ours. It's a fantastic show. And, again, something that my husband always says about anything — about why something isn't popular — he's like, "The public is going to want to do what the public wants to do," and sometimes there is just no control over that no matter what. 

Murin and Curtis Holbrook
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Question: Did you go back and read Lysistrata at any point during the process?

Murin: I read it in Dallas — right before we went to Dallas — and then, this summer. I was like, "I'm not going to read it because really, [my character] is basing her entire plan on a two-sentence Sparknotes version of the show." [Laughs.] We actually got a couple of copies of Lysistrata for opening night. I love flipping through and seeing all of the names are the same. That's why our cheerleading squad has such bizzaro names like Cleonice and Lampito and Myrrhine because they are all the women of Athens. They tied it in like that. All the boys — Cinesias and Tyllis are all the same names, so I like doing that, but I didn't get too crazy with it because I was like, "She didn't research it!" [Laughs.] And, we veer very quickly off of the plot — within like 20 minutes we are already off the plot of Lysistrata.

Question: Will there be a cast recording?
Murin: We are sure hoping so, but we have not gotten any official news yet. We're keeping our fingers crossed though. We've gotten a lot, lot of requests for it.

Question: You guys seem like you're having a great time up there. Is the cast close?
Murin: Yes, we are. Starting downtown, when we started at the Judson Memorial Church, we got very close very quickly. Our dressing rooms were right next to each other. We all had to share one bathroom — like one public bathroom [for both] boys and girls. We were so physically close, and we just love each other to pieces. We're not one of those perfect families [laughs], who are like, "Oh my God, we love each," but we have such a bond, and everybody has such a special relationship with each other. We span the ages a little bit more than you might think, but everyone sort of has their familial role in the whole group, so it's great. We love each other.

Question: What was it like when you performed the show in the gym? What was that experience like compared to doing it on a regular proscenium stage?
Murin: It was pretty neat. It was pretty awesome. It was small. [Laughs.] It was risky because there were only 99 seats there, so if you had a full house there was still a good chance that some jokes weren't going to land. The thing with small audiences like that, it takes them a little bit more time to really feel free to laugh at you because you are literally three feet away from them. You're so close to them… There were a couple times at the beginning of shows that we were like, "Oh my God!" because they're a little hesitant to laugh out loud and call attention to themselves, really, because it's such a small space. It was a lot riskier, I think. Now we're performing to a 950-seat house, so we're always performing to a lot more people than we were downtown, so there's a great chance that most people are going to laugh.

Murin in Jane Austen's Emma.
photo by Henry DiRocco

Question: You've mentioned your husband a couple of times. Do you find it easier to be married to someone in the business who knows the ups and downs of what a career is like?
Murin: Yes. Definitely… Before him, I swore that I would never date an actor again. [Laughs.] And, I kept to that for a few years. When times are difficult and when times are hard or you're feeling discouraged or frustrated, he always knows what to say. He always knows what to say because he knows what he would want to hear. He also knows how to tell if I just want a hug or if I really want to talk about the business or specific things about the business… It's a great feeling knowing that I have a partner who really gets it. If I was married to someone who was not in the business and really didn't get it, I think it would be a lot harder. I would have to shoulder a lot more things by myself — deal with things with my own mind. It's great. Curtis is one of the best people in the world, so that helps, too!

Question: Do you have any other projects in the works or are you just focusing on Lysistrata at the moment?
Murin: Well, there is a show that I did out at the Old Globe last year —  Jane Austen's Emma, written by Paul Gordon. They are really hoping for a future life for that. Jeff Calhoun directed it. I would love, love in the future to do that show again. It's so beautiful… It's just such a great, great show. It's a musical comedy, too.

Question: That's interesting. I didn't know that.
Murin: It's Jane Austen, so she essentially wrote the comedy of the times, even though, as you read it, you're not laughing out loud. It was such a wonderful production, so I know that they are working hard to make sure that something happens with that. And then, there's another show called Citizen Ruth based on the movie with Laura Dern that Dan Knechtges is also directing. It's written by Michael Brennan and Mark Leydorf. And, it is a musical of "Citizen Ruth." Now, "Citizen Ruth" is not the first movie that you think people would turn into a musical because it's essentially about abortion and abortion rights and political... It's like a black comedy commentary on the extreme left and extreme right of politics, but it's a brilliant movie, and what they've done with the musical is incredible. I think it's incredible. I actually play Ruth, which is a very serious 180 from all these other roles because she's a homeless drug addict. She's a paint huffer. [Laughs.] But, when they did the last couple readings of it, Dan was like, "We need someone who can be likeable."… Looking at her from the outside, you're like, "She is a horrible person," but you have to love her. I got involved then… I think they have future plans for that show, hopefully sometime soon. That's another one that I've been involved with that I would really love to see go somewhere because I think that it's amazing. Talk about turning musical theatre on its head! [Laughs.]

 

[Tickets for Lysistrata Jones range from $25 to $130, and can be purchased on Telecharge.com or by calling (800) 432-7250.  The remaining performances are as follows: Jan. 6 at 8 PM; Jan. 7 at 2 PM and 8 PM; and Jan. 8 at 3 PM. For more information, visit www.LysistrataJones.com.]

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

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