BWW Interview: Karen Murphy as Mrs. du Maurier in FINDING NEVERLAND Flies into the Saenger for One Week!
This week, through May 14th, the good people of New Orleans have the opportunity to experience the story of Peter Pan like never before. FINDING NEVERLAND gives us an inside look at the life of the beloved story's author, J.M. Barrie, and teaches us not only how he was inspired to write about the boy who could fly, but to learn to fly ourselves!
Karen Murphy plays Mrs. du Maurier - a concerned mother and grandmother who wants the best for her family, and isn't very approving of Mr. Barrie from the start. Read my interview with Karen below to find out more about her experiences with this role and this beautiful new musical.
So, Karen, I actually have interviewed you before when you were in New Orleans on tour with MARY POPPINS about five years ago now. What's been going on with your career since then?
Oh, I've had so many wonderful experiences. Gosh, some wonderful concerts. The video is available on YouTube - it's the Fred Barton Pace University Showstoppers. I do a couple of concerts there a year, and there's some wonderful video of that. I actually did MARY POPPINS again at the Westchester Broadway Dinner Theatre, but I played Mrs. Brill, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I did a character in a video game. I did a brilliant GUYS AND DOLLS at the Goodspeed Opera House, and then the one-woman show I'LL EAT YOU LAST. Bette Midler did it on Broadway. It's a wonderful story of Sue Mengers, who was the first female mega-talent agent. I've done that twice. I did it in Hartford at TheaterWorks, and then at Amphibian Theatre in Fort Worth. So, quite a lovely mix of musicals and concerts. No complaints from me. I'm loving this job!
Ok you've been in some pretty big productions... I mean MARY POPPINS and now FINDING NEVERLAND are two pretty big productions. What's the difference, for you, in being in something like that and then doing a one-woman show?
Well, it's the ying and yang of theatre. One was so intimate, and the other grand, and each is satisfying in it's own way. It really is. It's a stretch as an actress to play the different roles. It was quite a challenge the first time I did I'LL EAT YOU LAST. I had to learn it in seventeen days, and it's a 75-minute monologue. It was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. But, I did it! And, I was very happy to do it again.
When I interviewed you for MARY POPPINS... I had to go back and read that because it was quite a while ago... we had talked a little bit about how audiences were coming to the theatre with a set of expectations because they love the movie. Are you finding that it's the same with FINDING NEVERLAND, because this was a movie first as well?
What is a given is that everyone who walks through the door has knowledge of PETER PAN. That is a wonderful common denominator. No matter the age... whether it's the grandparents coming with children and grandchildren or what... you don't need to explain what's going on in terms of the common denominator being PETER PAN. And, of course, this is the story of the evolution of PETER PAN, and so to know that people are coming in the door with delightful anticipation makes it pretty easy for us just to launch off of that.
Can you give me a bit of a synopsis and how the PETER PAN story is incorporated into it?
Well, this focuses on the author, J.M. Barrie. This is his story. You meet him right away at the beginning of the show, and he's very upfront. He says, "I'm going to tell you how I came to write the story of Peter Pan." Much of it is accurate. There's a little bit of theatrical license taken with it with a romantic element, which was actually not historically accurate. But, much of it is based on solid research. For a family to come into the theatre, it's very beautiful to look at, and wonderful sets. There are four adorable boys, and a dog.
Oh goodness! Have you worked with animals before this show? That's got to be a little different.
I have, on a number of shows I've been in. I'm trying immediately to come up with one. I was in ANNIE WARBUCKS for it's original development, and... sorry, the brain isn't working right now!
Well, what's it like working with animals? Is it kind of a toss up as to whether or not they're going to do what they're supposed to do, or are they well-trained?
The dogs are very well-trained. And, actually, we are requested to not interact with the dogs. There's a dog and then there's an understudy dog, by the way. There's Bailey and there's Sammy. They don't want the cast to interact with the dogs because the dogs are taught a very specific behavior and what they're supposed to do. They don't want the dog to form an attachment to you, so when they go on stage to do their bit they're not thinking, "Oh, there's Karen! I think I'll go say hi to Karen." I love walking by the room where they're kept. They have a wonderful trainer namEd Tyler, who is just terrific. They're a pleasure.
That would be so hard for me to walk by and not go play with them! Alright so switching gears a little, the biggest difference between the movie and the stage show that I'm seeing is the music. There is no music in the movie, but this show is a musical. What do you think the music contributes to this story?
Oh, it heightens all of the emotions as music does, and we have some really lovely melodies going on in this show. I still sit backstage and stop what I'm doing and listen to a melody and say, "Oh, isn't that nice?! Listen to that!"
What are some of your favorite songs in the show?
There's a love song between J.M. Barrie and the character who is playing my daughter Sylvia. Even though it's not historically accurate, it's a beautiful melody.
Ok so you are playing Mrs. du Maurier, Sylvia's mother. What is her relationship like with Sylvia, James, and her grandsons?
In some ways I think that I'm Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey. When you see the show and you see how I'm all dressed up, you might agree a little bit. I mean, I have the best job in the world. I get to play dress up and talk with this accent, and walk around on stage in this lovely costume. What's nice about my role is she's most disapproving, and worried, and dogmatic, and she softens up. Her eyes are opened to the relationships that her daughter and grandchildren form with J.M. Barrie, and she loosens up a bit. She grows, so that's nice.
Yes. I think this character is sometimes misunderstood and villainized, but I kind of always just thought of her as a concerned mother.
Thank you for that. Yes.
What are some of the particularly magical moments in the show that we might experience?
Well. There are magical moments. I don't want to spoil anything. I think it's the last 20 minutes of the show are really incredibly special, because in a broad way we act out the story of Peter Pan. Every single night I sit there in the scene and I feel the shift with the audience as they come along for the suspension of reality and a boy who flies. And, of course, Peter Pan has always been played by a woman - Mary Martin being the original. The girl who does it is just fantastic - Dee [Tomasetta] does a great job! Even though she doesn't fly, she is carried around on the stage by two men underneath her. But, you believe it! You just believe she's flying. It just reinforces the wonder of being in the theatre. If you went into a movie theatre you expect all these technological wonders, but all you have to do is say, "look at that boy fly!" and even though two men are carrying her around, you still believe it. The magic is very special. It's why people keep coming back to the theatre.
That's so true. So what do you think is so important about telling J.M. Barrie's story as opposed to just another re-telling of PETER PAN?
I think it's wonderful for the audience to have a window in to the creative process. That's what much of the first act shows. How was he inspired? What happened? What kind of writer was he before? He was very successful. What happened in the creative process that launched this story that is still beloved 100 years later?
FINDING NEVERLAND is at the Saenger Theatre in New Orleans through this coming Sunday, May 14th. Get your tickets now, and experience the magic of J.M. Barrie's imagination! Not a bad Mother's Day gift either (hint, hint)! For tickets and more information visit www.saengernola.com. Karen and I will see you in Neverland