How Donna Murphy Went From NYU Student to Broadway Diva

Seth Rudetsky   How Donna Murphy Went From NYU Student to Broadway Diva
This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Seth shares stories from interviews with Mandy Moore, Donna Murphy, Michael Urie, and more.
Abingdon_Theatre_Company_Gala_Closer_Than_Ever_2018_AbingdonGala1-2-Donna Murphy_HR.jpg
Donna Murphy Roberto Araujo

First of all, I’m freaking out because we’re having a Desperate Housewives reunion on Stars In The House! If you don’t know, James and I are usually one month to 20 years behind the rest of the country in terms of what’s trending, meaning we became obsessed and watched every single episode of Oz from 2000 around three years ago, and then in 2018 we obsessively watched every season of Desperate Housewives…six years after it went off the air.

Regardless, we loved that show so much and now we have so many stars joining us! Eva Longoria, Dana Delany, Vanessa Williams, Harriet Harris, Marcia Cross, and Brenda Strong (who played the dead neighbor and—spoiler alert!—did the signature voiceover at the top of every show)! That’s airing LIVE this coming Sunday April 12 at 8PM ET. I am, however, proud to say that we are caught up with one current TV trend and that is: We love Barry on HBO! We’re having stars from that show on tomorrow (Tuesday, April 7) at 8PM ET!

I was talking with Henry Winkler (who won an Emmy for his performance as the acting teacher) and he said that hadn’t filmed in two years and they had just done a table read of the second episode when production had to stop because of COVID-19. I’m hoping that he’ll reveal a little (a lot?) of what’s going to happen on Season 3…or at least on the first two episodes. Go to to watch every broadcast live at 2PM and 8PM ET each day and see all the previous episodes.

Here are some recent highlights:

Donna Murphy told a story about her early NYU to Broadway days. Back when she was an acting student, the theory was that you weren’t allowed to audition for anything because you needed to break all of your bad acting habits before you started performing. Yet, Donna would still go to open calls. One day she auditioned for the Broadway revival of Hair. She got called back and gave an amazing audition. She was actually certain she was cast! She went back to her dorm and asked the dorm mother to tell her immediately if she got a call from the casting people. She waited…and waited…and waited. She soon doubted herself; if she thought that audition was so fantastic and was so certain of getting cast, could she trust her own judgment? Finally, she found out why she wasn’t cast. The show had closed! Yay! (Well, not “yay” the show closed, but “yay”, she wasn’t crazy!)

She kept going to open calls and finally got called back…and then she got cast! Yes! In They’re Playing Our Song, Lucie Arnaz played leading lady Sonia who had three back-up ladies representing her ego. One of the original egos—future Tony Award winner, Debbie Shapiro Gravitte—left to do another show and Donna took over and made her Broadway debut.

Robert Klein and Lucie Arnaz in They're Playing Our Song
Robert Klein and Lucie Arnaz in They're Playing Our Song

Finally, she was singing and dancing on Broadway! But after a while, she began to feel bored. She was there to do harmony and dance steps, but she had been studying acting with Stella Adler. Her role as a back-up singer had no journey, no real character. To keep herself focused, she would find a famous character from drama, and do the show as that person. Antigone, Salome, Hedda Gabbler…. She didn’t change the blocking or anything obvious, but it was an acting exercise that kept her focused.

Soon, a new member joined the show and they had a “put-in” rehearsal—the rehearsal that takes place when someone new enters the show and the remaining cast “puts them in.” Everyone (except the new person) is in street clothes. It’s just to give the new actor a chance to do it with hair and costumes and on the set. Well, though Donna had new acting choices at night, the dance captain approached her after the daytime rehearsal:
DANCE CAPTAIN: Hi, Donna! Do you remember how you were at the put-in rehearsal we just did?
DONNA: Yes! Sorry about that. I was just marking it…I thought I didn’t have to do it full out.
DANCE CAPTAIN: Right. That’s actually how I want you to do the show eight times a week.

Yep, Donna’s subtext was so strong that the dance captain wanted her to stop and just do a low-energy version!!! And…Donna gave her notice. Cut to: two Tony Awards.

Donna Murphy holds her 1996 Best Actress in a Musical Tony Award
Donna Murphy holds her 1996 Best Actress in a Musical Tony Award Joseph Marzullo

WATCH: Tony Winner Donna Murphy Gets Emotional Describing Her Take on Hello, Dolly’s Dolly Gallagher Levi

Back to TV reunions! We gathered the stars of Taxi, and Danny DeVito talked about when the show was canceled by ABC in 1982, but he was already scheduled to host Saturday Night Live. Taxi had been canceled after they filmed the last episode of the season so the cast never had an official goodbye. Danny brought the cast onstage at SNL for closure. Well, when NBC saw how great the cast got along, they picked it up for another season! Not since Urban Cowboy. (That show got its closing notice and played its final performance. After everyone bowed and hugged…the producer came onstage and told them they were going to stay open! Apparently, the cheer from the cast/theatre was so loud that it was heard ALL the way down the street!!)


We also welcomed Broadway animal trainer Bill Berloni to the Stars In The House. Just to reiterate: Nearly every animal he trains is a rescue! I asked what people can do about the stray animal population and Bill suggested they reach out to local shelters…especially in cities and towns that aren’t in full stay-at-home orders. Find out if you can foster a doggie or a kitty or a rabbit or whatever and/or see if you can drop off food, sheets, leashes, or whatever the shelter might need. This will help the shelter get ahead of the issues that will probably lie ahead.

Bill joined Orfeh and Andy Karl, both stars of Legally Blonde. Andy recounted how he joined Saturday Night Fever (Orfeh was Annette and he was understudying the role of Tony Manero), met Orfeh, and six months later they were engaged! I asked how it happened and she recalled that they always ate dinner after the show and one night, she opened up the rice that came with their Chinese food and inside was a red box with an engagement ring. She clutched it and cried happy tears. Actually, no. She freaked out from seeing such an incongruous object inside her rice container…and threw it at Andy! Romantic? NO. But they’ve been married for almost 20 years!

We also had the cast of This Is Us on Stars In The House. I asked Mandy Moore how long it takes to get into the old-age makeup and she told us between 3.5 and 5.5 hours!!!! Every time! And yes, one time Jon Huertas, who plays her husband, spent all those hours getting into his full old-age drag , waited and waited to do his scene…and then they broke for the day!


And finally, my new podcast Seth Rudetsky’s Back to School has three episodes now available! The SiriusXM app, which gives you access to the podcast and all the SiriusXM shows, is now FREE! Or you can get the podcast on Apple Podcast’s here.

Tina Fey was my guest for our premiere episode, then Vanessa Williams, and on Tuesday, I talk with Michael Urie about his high school years in Texas.


One of my favorite stories is when he talks about traveling to NYC at the end of high school and seeing some shows. He was interested in becoming an actor and wound up doing a talk back at a show including a child actor. Out of all the actors onstage, this nine-year-old knew everything about the business; agents, auditions, you name it! Not surprisingly, the show was Ragtime and the show biz vet giving invaluable advice from her nine-year-old mouth was Lea Michele!

After Michael Urie comes Allison Janney, Jason Alexander, and more on my high school podcast!

Check out our upcoming schedule for Stars in the House here, then peace out and stay well!

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