Donna Murphy Will Return to Broadway in New Musical The People in the Picture

By Kenneth Jones
October 31, 2010

Two-time Tony Award winner Donna Murphy will star in the new Broadway musical The People in the Picture, about three generations of women and their conflicting responses to the past, in spring 2011. She'll play a Jewish grandmother who conjures stories of her theatrical life in the old country.



Roundabout Theatre Company in association with Tracy Aron will produce the musical, to feature a book and lyrics by "Beaches" novelist Iris Rainer Dart and music by Mike Stoller (of "Leiber & Stoller" fame and Smokey Joe's Café) and Artie Butler (a composer, arranger and producer). Leonard Foglia (Master Class, Thurgood, On Golden Pond) will direct. Musical staging is by Tony Award winner Andy Blankenbuehler (In the Heights, 9 to 5).

Previews begin April 1, 2011, with the official opening set for April 28, at the American Airlines Theatre. The limited engagement is scheduled to run through June 19, 2011.

Here's how the producers characterize the new musical: "Once the darling of the Yiddish Theatre in pre-war Poland, now a grandmother in New York City, Bubbie [played by 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 is enchanted by her tales, her daughter Red will do anything to keep from looking back. A fiercely funny and deeply moving new musical that spans three generations, The People on the Picture celebrates the importance of learning from our past, and the power of laughter."

"The People in the Picture occurs in two time periods, with one of those beginning in 1935 and happening against the backdrop of the pending second World War," Roundabout artistic director Todd Haimes said in a statement. "But the heart of the show is about how generations, particularly mothers and daughters, can learn to understand each other, and how humor is the universal weapon that can help us get past any tragedy. It's about laughter as a means for survival and finding a way to forgive those we love. I think it would probably be most appropriate to describe The People in the Picture as a musical with humor that will break your heart."

Murphy received the first of two Tony Awards for Best Actress in a Musical, along with the Drama Desk and Drama League Awards, for playing Fosca in Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Passion. She was awarded her second Tony and Drama League Awards, as well as Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle nominations for her performance as Anna in the 1996 Tony Award winning revival of The King and I. In 2004, she was honored with the Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle and Astaire Awards, the Drama League Outstanding Achievement Award for her work in Musical Theater, as well as another Tony nomination, for her comic turn as Ruth in the revival of Wonderful Town. She was also Tony-nominated for playing Lotte Lenya in the world premiere of LoveMusik, directed by Harold Prince.

Haimes explained, "[Donna Murphy is playing a] tricky character, but even in a workshop setting it was clear that Donna had a great understanding of her. She is playing Raisel both as a young woman in pre-World War II Poland and 40 years later as she tries to impart her story to her granddaughter. It's a role that makes you see how amazingly versatile Donna is. The show asks her to transform seamlessly between ages from one moment to the next and to play everything from Yiddish Theatre-style comedy to mother-daughter battles to romantic reminiscence. I can't wait for the audience to see this performance."

The creative team includes Paul Gemignani (musical direction), Riccardo Hernandez (sets), Ann Hould-Ward (costumes), Howell Binkley (lights), Dan Moses Schreier (sound), Elaine J. McCarthy (projections) and Paul Huntley (hair and wigs).

Additional creative team members and the full company will be announced shortly.

Dart's own childhood, "imbued with the humor of the Yiddish culture," was what inspired her to write The People in the Picture, according to her bio. The writer was born in Pittsburgh, where her father was a social worker at the Irene Kaufman Settlement in the Hill District. She appeared as a child on the stage of the Curtaineers, the first interracial theatre group at the Settlement house. She went on to attend classes at the Pittsburgh Playhouse from the time she was six, and was a child actress at both the Pittsburgh Playhouse and The White Barn Theater. Dart received her degree in theatre from the drama department at Carnegie Mellon University, where she won the BMI awards for the libretto and lyrics she wrote for the varsity musical with composer Stephen Schwartz. After moving to Los Angeles, she was a member of the Columbia Pictures contract workshop. In the 1970s, producer George Schlatter hired her to be the first woman writer on "The Sonny and Cher Show." She went on to work in both situation comedy, and long-form television before she turned to writing novels.

Roundabout subscribers have first access to tickets. To join Roundabout visit www.roundabouttheatre.org or call Roundabout Ticket Services (212) 719-9393.

Tickets ($72-$122) go on sale to the general public January 2011.