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BWW EXCLUSIVE: Donna Murphy Talks Disney's TANGLED


Today we are talking to one of the biggest stars on Broadway and the recipient of a Best Actress Tony Award for her unforgettable performance in the original Broadway cast of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's PASSION in addition to one for her role as 'Anna' in The King and I, the star of numerous Broadway musicals and ENCORES! productions such as WONDERFUL TOWN, FOLLIES, and, most recently, ANYONE CAN WHISTLE - and also the voice of the newest villain in a Disney animated feature film, as we saw earlier today in the special still image from TANGLED - the urbane, elegant and endlessly talented stage and screen star Donna Murphy! The BWW World Premiere Exclusive reveal of Ms. Murphy's character Mother Gothel was not the only treat in store for this exciting day in Disney - and BroadwayWorld - history!

TANGLED is Disney's newest animated feature film, starring the voices of Mandy Moore as Rapunzel, Zachary Levi as Prince Flynn Ryder and Donna Murphy as Mother Gothel. It is a modern retelling of Rapunzel with many new twists, turns and tangles in the classic Grimms fairy tale. It will be released nationwide on November 24th so set your calenders now!

Here is an exclusive sneak peek of the complete InDepth InterView with Donna Murphy in which she describes her experience voicing the evil character - and brand new Alan Menken/Glenn Slater songs - central to the drama of Disney's TANGLED. Be sure check back next week for the complete interview in which we also discuss the meaning of Disney films to Ms. Murphy and her family, why this project drew her in, as well as a thorough discussion of her experiences working on the Stephen Sondheim shows PASSION, FOLLIES and ANYONE CAN WHISTLE - as well as working with visionary Hollywood directors like Oliver Stone and Darren Aronofsky, and sharing the stage with actors like Victor Garber, Raul Esparza, Sutton Foster, Betty Buckley and much, much more!

Also, be sure to stay tuned to BWW for all things TANGLED in the coming weeks and months leading up to its release - including extensive exclusive content only available here - in anticipation of its world premiere in early 2011!

PC: Tell me everything about TANGLED.

DM: I love the character that I've gotten the chance to voice. Mother Gothel is her name. She's complex and funny and vain and self-centered and... well, actually, I would say she's more like self-obsessed!

PC: Sounds juicy!

DM: She finds herself extremely amusing - even if no one else does!


PC: Larger than life!

DM: Yes. (Pause.) And she does this horrible thing in stealing this child for her own selfish reasons. In my mind's eye, she was a very lonely woman who really did not know how to have a relationship of any kind.

PC: A complex characterization.

DM: In this treatment of the story, my character is much like the Witch in the traditional fairy tale...


DM: Right. Or Grimm's original fairy tale.

PC: Of course. What's different?

DM: She's not a witch, not quite. She's the first female villain...

PC: A villainess!

DM: Yes, a villainess! She doesn't have any powers of her own, at least not any magical powers of her own, you see. She derives what she derives - a certain kind of magic quality - from Rapunzel's hair.

PC: What a twist!

DM: She gets it from Rapunzel's hair. She needs to keep her in the tower. Actually, what it really does is it keeps my character young.

PC: Fascinating, especially for this story.

DM: There's a prologue in the movie, and in the prologue it sets up how my character knows that Rapunzel's hair has this quality. Gothel was aware that there was a flower in this village that had this magical element to it that kept her young. The nectar from this flower kept her young. So then, the queen was pregnant with a child and she became very ill and the people in the town found this flower and became aware, too, of it possessing a healing quality and they picked the flower. So, that deprived my character, Gothel, of what... probably what really kept her alive...

PC: Now, that's a set-up for a story!

DM: She's probably three or four hundred years old, you see.


PC: Now she's going to start to look it!

DM: Yes! (Laughs.) When we meet her in the prologue she's going to get her sort of "fix" from the flower, so when she learns that the flower has gone to the queen and the queen has given birth - I don't think she really even knows what she's going to do - but she hysterically goes to castle and she finds this child. She sees this golden, magical hair.

PC: Uh oh!

DM: Yeah, she sort of gets that this hair might have the same quality that the flower does.

PC: Some mystical inkling or intuition...

DM: She goes to try and clip a piece of it and... I'm not going to say a whole lot more about it!

PC: We'll have to all go see TANGLED now to see the story all tied up! With a bow!

DM: Let's just say it leads to her stealing Rapunzel. She realized, "You know what? I need the child." So, that's her motivation.

PC: What a great motivation! Please tell me you sing a bunch of dramatic songs!

DM: I do! I have a few songs. Alan Menken and Glenn Slater wrote them.

PC: Great team.

DM: It was thrilling to sing on the Disney lot. You know, this recording space where everyone from Frank Sinatra to, I don't know who all else...

PC: Julie Andrews, all the greats.

DM: Yeah, they've all recorded on this stage. And to record with a seventy-something-piece orchestra. Listening to the tracks afterward - from what I understand - they said to me that they ended up using a high percentage of the material I recorded live with the orchestra because it was, they said, "Just there, in the moment, and so exciting!"

PC: Wow! What a compliment to your immense talent!

DM: Michael Starobin did the orchestrations.


PC: Oh, wow! From the Sondheim school! SUNDAY and ASSASSINS...

DM: (Laughs.) Yes! Exactly! And I know him from MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD which was an early show that I did.

PC: Oh, I loved you in that! In drag!

DM: Originally, I was in the chorus, but, yes, I did replace Betty Buckley in it.

PC: I love that cast recording, even though you‘re just featured on it!

DM: Michael conducted and did some of the orchestrations for that, so I knew Michael from way back. I was so thrilled that he was doing the orchestrations for this.

PC: Who else is involved in the music? It's like a who's who of Broadway with Menken, Slater and Starobin!

DM: The conductor is Kos, or Michael Kosarin, who has worked on many projects with Alan. He has worked on many Disney projects. And he lives up the block from me, as I found out!

PC: No way! It's a small Disney world, after all!

DM: Yeah, we rehearsed in New York so he was so great. He was just a fountain of information as far as the process goes, which is so new to me. They were so open - both the music team and our writer/directors Nathan and Byron - to ideas that I had, and input. They'd say, "Try anything! Do anything! Go off the lines if you want!"

PC: How freeing! Any examples?

DM: Well, I had ideas about a slightly different ending to something musically in the arrangement and I requested, "Could we try that?" and they said, "Absolutely! Hey, if we don't like it, we'll throw it out." You know, in film, you do take after take and you have no idea what will end up onscreen in front of an audience.

PC: Made and broken in the editing room.

DM: It's a great opportunity to play, though. With the right support and the right creative team, you can feel so free.

PC: How marvelous!

DM: As I said, I have never done animation. I mean, I had done voiceovers and narration and books-on-tape and stuff, but this was a very unusual thing. I was acting in scenes, but I wasn't acting with other actors.


PC: Strange for a theatrical thespian, no?

DM: I never did a scene with Mandy or Zach. I think the first session we did, in the scene-work all of my stuff with Rapunzel I did with one of the directors reading. Then, he would say, "Could you just do this for me in your own time and imagine what's coming at you?" It was a great exercise for myself just imagining Rapunzel acting in many different ways which would then trigger a different response in terms of how I would approach a scene, or a line, or even a sigh.

PC: It's all in the details with voice-work.

DM: It was all so fascinating for me. I thought that it would be lonely and hard to feel like I was being a good "actor". I don't know what it comes off like, but I had a blast!

PC: You never do less than stalwart work, ever!

DM: It felt incredibly creative. There was something kind of liberating about it just being my voice, you know?

PC: Your voice is so expressive, spoken or sung.

DM: I don't know what that was about, that feeling, but they were filming me, because the animators like to watch that footage to give them ideas about facial expressions, gestures. I'm sure they have ideas of their own, as well - and it's not like the character looks like me per se - but when they showed the sketches to me, there were certain ways I could see it play out in the physicality of the character and how I would kind of get inside her skin.

PC: Menken is so hot right now: TANGLED, SISTER ACT and LEAP OF FAITH - with your ANYONE CAN WHISTLE co-star Raul in the lead - all in a few months' time hitting Gotham!

DM: Oh, and he's such a great guy! Menken the Mensch is what we all call him!

PC: It's sort of ironic to be talking to you about Disney's TANGLED when PASSION was in competition with BEAUTY & THE BEAST back then in the early 90s.

DM: I didn't even think of that! But, I do remember that year, thinking the themes were quite similar in the two pieces. But, such different styles of storytelling and, of course, two different stories. And two different themes being explored.

PC: Of course.

DM: That was, yes, the first big Disney show on Broadway.

PC: What do you think of Disney on Broadway?

DM: My feeling about the theatre is that there should be a place for everything.

PC: I completely agree.

DM: I think people get anxious and think something is going to displace opportunity for a certain kind of work because audiences have become accustomed, and expecting of, a particular style and won't be as open to others.

PC: Which is never the case.

DM: No, I don't think it is. I continue to try to be an idealist and remember there is a place for everything.

PC: You think that is still true, even today?

DM: I do really believe there is a place for everything. What you have to be now is be extra-smart in how you market something that is new and different not necessarily a commercial piece.

PC: It's all in the marketing.

DM: Especially something that deserves to be seen and enriches the cultural life of everybody who has the opportunity to go to the theatre and experience new works. As well as the revivals and classics.

PC: Of course.

DM: I never have done a Disney show. I've never done any animation work before. So, I felt like I hit the jackpot in having my first animation be a Disney film.


PC: No one has ever done it better, or ever will, than Disney.

DM: And, also, as the mother of a five-year-old. So, in the last two-and-a-half, three years, suddenly I am having all these reunions with classic Disney works!

PC: How great!

DM: Some of the more recent ones, too; ones I hadn't seen. Frankly, I'm just loving it! We're just loving it.

PC: The new Blu-Ray editions are spectacular. The SLEEPING BEAUTY is unbelievable in its clarity and depth of image.

DM: I haven't seen the Blu-ray, but we definitely have it on DVD. They are just gorgeous. You know, multiple viewings - I mean, my daughter doesn't watch a lot of things on the screen - but, certainly, there are some things she loves and wants to see more than once. There's a lot to see in Disney films and a lot of levels, at different ages, in the ways that these things register with children at different times in their lives - and in their mom's and dad's lives too! (Laughs.)

PC: With you as proof!

DM: Especially as you realize it as you are watching the films with them!

PC: Passing on the tradition, the stories.

DM: Yes. So, to be on board with their latest project, is kind of amazing.


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Pat Cerasaro contributes exclusive scholarly columns including InDepth InterViews, Sound Off, Theatrical Throwback Thursdays, Flash Friday and Flash Special as well as additional special features, (read more...)