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Broadway Bullet Interview: Julia Murney in Wicked

 This week we talk to the amazing Julia Murney, who is currently starring as Elphaba in the hit Broadway musical, Wicked. We also listen to two songs from her CD, I'm Not Waiting: The title track, "I'm Not Waiting" by Andrew Lippa, and "Perfect" by Tom Kitt.

Julia Murney previously appeared on Broadway in Lennon. She starred as "Queenie" in Andrew Lippa's The Wild Party at Manhattan Theatre Club. At MTC, she also appeared in Time and Again, and A Class Act. Other credits include The Vagina Monologues, Crimes of the Heart, and First Lady Suite. On TV, she's appeared on all three "Law & Orders", "Ed," and she enjoyed some raw food on "Sex and the City." Julia is also one of the most charitable people around, having lent her fabulous voice for many the benefit concert, including the Actors' Fund benefit performance of Hair. 

Her first CD, "I'm Not Waiting" is available from Sh-K-Boom or Amazon . 

Broadway Bullet Interview: Julia Murney  

Broadway Bullet:  The Muppets used to say: "It's not easy being green."

Julia Murney:  Yes.

BB:  And with eight shows a week, I would think Julia Murney might attest to that statement being true.

JM:  It is true. It is the truth. (laughter)

BB:  Julia Murney is currently appearing on Broadway [in Wicked] as Elphaba. (pronounces it El - faah - buh)

JM:  It's El – phuh – buh.

BB:  Oh, okay.

JM:  It's okay.  I thought it was pronounced El – faah – ba when I read the novel ten years ago, but actually it's El – fuh – ba.  And it's taken from the author of The Wizard of Oz books, L Frank Baum: El [from the L]– Pha [from the F in Frank] – Ba [from Baum].

BB:  That's right.

JM:  How do you like that little piece of information? (laughter) Oh, sure I'm filled with all kinds -- What you want to know about John Lennon?  I got it, I got it.

BB:  Besides that, you've got this fabulous new solo CD, "I'm Not Waiting".

JM:  It's true, it's true.

BB:  So you got a lot going on.

JM:  I guess.  (laughts) Yeah!  I'm too tired to notice.  But I recorded [the CD] right before I went on the road with Wicked. And it came out, I think -- last May, was when we finally got it finished.

BB:  You worked with a lot of different composers on here.

JM:  Yeah, well, I didn't really work with a lot of -- Yes, Joni Mitchell and I, old friends. (laughter)

BB:  Well, did you work with Andrew Lippa?

JM:  Yes, he produced it.

BB:  He produced it, so that's good.

JM:  He wrote the song, "I'm Not Waiting" for me.  So, hence, [his song] got the title of the whole CD.

BB:  Who are some of your favorite composers?

JM:  Well, I am very partial to Mister Andrew Lippa -- you mean of the new guys?

BB:  The new -- of the new crop out there.

JM :  I'd have to honestly say I feel so blessed that I've gotten to work in some capacity with so many of them, that -- and they're all so different, and they're all so ridiculously talented, you can't even pick one. It's like, to me -- I was talking about the Tony Awards the other day, and how do you say Mary Poppins is better than Curtains is better than Grey Gardens is better than Spring Awakening.  They're four, so totally different pieces, and like all those composers, between Michael John LaChusia and Jason Robert Brown and Andrew Lippa --

BB: Everybody loves a contest.

JM:  I don't like a contest. -- It's so thrilling to get to be in a room with someone who's written the song, and they're sitting there, playing it, and you get to put your spin on it.  And that's as opposed to: you're learning a song that Mary Martin sang on the original cast album, which is great as well, but it's just such a different -- it's such an honor to get to do [the former].  It really is, and [the composers] have all been wonderfully kind to me, and I love singing all of their songs.

BB:  Now, is there a theme you're going for, putting all this together?  Because you have some great choices.  You blend "A Thousand Beautiful Things," an Annie Lennox song that I love, with "Beautiful Day", from U2.

JM:  That was my random idea that I came up with one day. And I went to Tom Kitt, who music-directed half of the album.  And we were doing a solo show, and I said: "Okay Tom, If I wanna put these two songs together, will you make them go?"  I said, "I want this part to land here, and this part to land there," and then he made it be so.

BB:  It worked great; it was a total surprise because I actually wasn't looking at the CD when I was listening; you know, it was on my iPod, and I go: "Oh, 'A Thousand Beautiful Things,' Annie Lennox song.  Love this, love this." Then, all of a sudden it started kicking into "Beautiful Day," and I'm going: "Oh, this is very cool."

JM:  Yay!  I'm so glad you like it.  It took me a number of days to actually approach Tom Kitt with the idea, because I came up with the idea, and I was like: "No, that's stupid, forget it."  Then I went: "Well, let me just ask him."  And it was fine.  It's funny, I've had a number of children of friends of mine -- and my friends have the CD -- it's their kids' favorite [song on the CD].  They love The "Beautiful Day" song.  I don't know, maybe it's because they can hop around to it, I'm not really sure.  But yeah, there was not really much by way of a theme.  I was, at one point, going to call the album: "Stuff I Like to Sing" (laughter)  There wasn't like -- I didn't want to make a theatre song album, necessarily, because I sort of based this on the solo shows that I've done, which are not -- they have some theatre songs, certainly, in them, but a bunch of these other songs as well.  So I just thought: Well, you know what, it's a vanity project; I'm doing it myself, I might as well just record what I want to record.  And the one thing that Kurt Deutsch -- who's the head of Sh-K-Boom Records, who I went to college with -- said to me was: "You have to do a song from Wicked," because I was about to go on the road. I was like: "But…" he said: You have to; it's the hook." So I said that I don't want to sing any of the big, histrionic, singing songs: a) because I didn't have an orchestra, and b) because I just felt that out of context they -- I didn't know how to play them in my head.  So, "Not That Girl" was sort of the one, I thought: Let's take that out, and Stephen Oremus, who is an old friend and the music supervisor for Wicked, kind of rearranged it, and gave it a little -- I don't know what, kind of -- esque spin, something spin.

BB:  I think we should let our listeners hear a song from this.

JM:  You go right ahead.

BB:  My personal favorite off the album, I thought it was very fresh and innovative: "I'm Not Waiting", the song you said was written right for you.

JM:  Andrew Lippa, yes.  There's nothing cooler than having a composer go: "I wrote this for you."  "You did?  Cool!" That's nice.

Listen to "I'm Not Waiting" on Broadway Bullet Vol 119

BB:  Now besides Wicked --

JM:  I just spilled water all over myself.  Now, for those of you -- all of you listening in the world, it has now become a wet t-shirt contest. (laughter) That's hot.

BB:  It's a green, Beatles t-shirt.

JM:  Yeah, it's a green, Beatles t-shirt, and it's now really – well done. Hmm, this should be on video.  It would be a different audience.

BB:  Yeah, the audience is now demanding YouTube. (laughter)

JM:  Okay, that'll dry. Go ahead.

BB:  You're also very well noted for how extremely busy you keep, not just with your eight-show schedule, but you help out a lot of the charity shows, and you perform quite frequently, and very generously give back your time.  How is that?

JM:  I haven't been able to do it as much since being in Wicked.  It's just hard.  I mean, there have been a few things that I've said yes to, because you're having a good week when they call, and it's in three or four weeks.  You're like: "Yeah, yeah, yeah, that sounds great."  And then three or four weeks down the road, there is no way on God's green Earth I can sing anything on my day off.  It's sort of a mixture of -- sometimes it's the charity itself that's asking you, sometimes it's the people who are asking you, I might not know anything about the -- and it's just -- to be perfectly honest, it tends to be a really fun, social evening, because you see your friends, and you get to hang out and you get -- I've had moments, where you get to sit there, and I'm watching someone else singing, someone I know -- I'm watching Norm Lewis singing, and I go: "I know him?  That's my friend, we have pizza. How do I know him, that handsome beautifully singing…" because I would just be one of the people sitting in the audience, looking at him, and it's just really cool to see your friends get to show off; you know, do their thing, and all that.  And in a few weeks, a bunch of us from Wicked are going up to the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp.   It's Paul Newman who started these camps -- I think there's a number of them around the country -- for children with cancer; they spend their time there.  We're going to go up, and have a Wicked day, and just spend time with the kids, and that kind of stuff is just -- and also it takes you out of your little ten-block radius of theatre where everything's so important, and it really isn't; I mean, it is, but it really isn't, [spending time with the kids in this camp] is what's really important.  When the first thing in your head is: Wow, three-hour drive, and have to spend time with the kids, and have to drive three hours back, that's a long day on your day off -- and then four seconds later you go: Shut up!  Those kids are having a much harder day than I could know.  So, that's -- you figure it out, you sleep later, and you figure it out.  We're very lucky, I think, as actors -- or I've always felt very lucky that I have somehow got onto this benefit list, that I get asked to do these sorts of things.  When we did the big Actor's Fund Benefit [Concert] of Chess, I was supposed to play the wife, and about two weeks before the concert, the pop star who was supposed to play Florence dropped out, so they called me, and they said okay we want to bump you up to Florence, and the correct answer to that, I'm sure, is supposed to be: "My God really, you do?  Well, thank you so much; I'm going to be opposite Josh Groban!"  I went: "Oh, it's really high, I don't know if I can do it, I practiced the other song," and then I could hear them on the other line going, "Julia…"  I was like: Oh I'm sorry. Yes! Okay!" So, I had to learn the whole thing in two weeks, which I didn't know.

BB:  Luckily, it's catchy.

JM:  It's catchy, it's a catchy tune.  So that was definitely -- sometimes it's a lesson in: just before you go on stage, you go: "Why did I say yes to this? Oh my God, I'm gonna absolutely throw up."  But then you get through; somebody enjoys it. Somehow. Or you hope, anyway

BB:  All right. Well, let's take a listen to another song.

JM:  All right.

BB:  You're actually going to be working with Tom Kitt again, coming up.

JM: I am, yes, for a momentary reunion.  They're doing an album release party for High Fidelity -- go buy it, it's on the Sh-K-Boom label!  See, I'm just promoting other people --  And they're doing an album release party at Birdland, on, I think, it's the 18th of June, and I'm going to sing one of the songs that was cut from the show, that I've sung for him before.  And he was one of the music directors of my album.

BB: And the song you're going to do -- we're going to play, you're not going to do -- that we're going to play here is "Perfect".

JM:  Yes, and he wrote it, all by himself.   

Listen to "Perfect" on Broadway Bullet Vol 119

BB:   I've seen in other interviews, and you've done a lot of roles, but you kind of commented that you've missed out on having that breakthrough hit as an originator, and that Wicked is kind of your first real smash.

JM:  Yes.

BB:  How much are you on the lookout for still finding that originating role as a -- because you do mostly do original shows?

JM:  Yeah. It's a tricky question, like -- on the lookout?  Sure all the time, you're on the lookout, but--

BB:  And the question is: how do you how do you lookout for--

JM:  Yeah, there are a trillion other factors that come into play.  I mean, I could be like: "I want to play, you know -- Susie in  Susie the Musical, (laughter) but I'm not the only one who wants to play Susie.  There's a whole other handful of women, who, we all may be exceedingly different in so many ways, but we tend to get lumped together because we sing high, or whatever it may be.  And there are just all kinds of things that factor into how you end up in a show or not.

BB:  Because I've wondered how people do -- because a lot of the composers do seem to favor a couple core people that --

JM:  They do, but then after a while, you know -- sure they favor core people, and you record the demos, or what have you, but then once --

BB:  I'm sure you're one of Andrew Lippa's favorites, when you did Wild Party.

JM:  I damn well better be one. (laughter) But at some point what happens is that: once the show's getting picked up, and it gets steam, and it's actually, with luck, going to Broadway, or going to out-of-town, or whatever it is, the writers aren't autonomous anymore.  The writers are now part of a committee and the whole committee decides who plays Susie in Susie the Musical.  If there are seven people [who decide on who plays Susie], and three of them like me, and three of them like [another girl], and they can't decide [between the two of us], but then there's that one other girl and they're both like: "Oh yeah, she's good," and she gets it.  Or for whatever reason.  It's a lesson I think you have to constantly relearn, the notion, you just let go.  You can want things, but then you have to be able to go: "Let me just go to the camp with the kids, and remind myself what's real."  Because the rest of it, it'd be great, but what can I do?  What can I do if I don't win?  So what?  It's sad, and I give myself until, like, three o'clock tomorrow to be pouty about it, and then move on.  Because otherwise, it can -- you can easily let it eat you up, and get you really angry, and it's not worth it.  Something'll come along.

BB:  Now, how long have you been doing Elphaba?

JM:  I've been doing Elphaba in New York since January, and on the road before that for six months, last year in '06.

BB:  So you've had a good amount of time to get "into the skin," so to speak?

JM:  Yes.  And it took me the whole six months on the road to figure out how to sing it.  And it's not just the singing in that role, it's also the screaming, there's a lot of screaming as I run around like an idiot.  The energy output that it takes – like, the difference between Elphaba and a role like Queenie in The Wild Party, which Lippa wrote, the characters are so -- Queenie, in The Wild Party, is sort of steady and straight across, and she's always kind of smooth and looking around for where trouble might be, or whatever.  And [The Wild Party] is almost entirely sung-through.  And it was written on me.  So, it was kind of -- it was in my muscle, and in my instrument.  Wicked has more – she's just more energetically out there, Elphaba is, and so it just takes so much from the minute you hit stage, and just going, going, going, going, and then running, and changing your clothes, and running, and then going under the stage, and then running up the stairs, and carrying a broom.  It takes a lot.  There's not a lot of -- when the shows over, there's not a lot of: "Hey, where we going you guys, we going out?"  It's like: "And goodnight everybody, I'm going home, have some tea."

BB:  You know, I still haven't had a chance to see Wicked yet, but one thing that strikes me interesting about the whole phenomenon and the passionate fans is that the passion is carried over to other performers.  A lot of times, the originators get most of the attention, then it's like: really, who's in Phantom right now?  But everybody who comes in, everybody gets excited.

JM:  Do they really?  See, I don't know, part of me -- I sort of thought people would be like: "Who's that?  Oh, Julia Murney. Oh, good for her," and moving on.  The show, for reasons that I don't think anyone will ever be able to truly discern, caught lightening in a bottle.  And it's interesting, because it's not like a show like Beauty and the Beast, which is catered to kids; it's the kind of a show where the adults are like: "We're going to see Wicked, should we bring the kids?" And so little ones enjoy it, teenagers enjoy it, because it speaks to anyone who's ever felt like an outcast or not enough, and then adults -- I was just saying earlier, I think that it's the kind of a show, people -- it's very easy for people to turn around, and make personal.  They do that, and it's become this huge, extraordinary phenomenon.  And I've certainly never been part of anything like it.  It's definitely -- you know there are groups, and they have their favorite Elphabas, or whatever.  It's a fascinating creature, Wicked is; it certainly is.  And it's awfully nice to know that you're going to walk out, and there are actually going to be people all the way through the mezzanine, sitting there.  Because it's tough; it's hard, when you come out, and you're aware of empty seats, and stuff like that, because you still have to turn it on; you can't just go: "Well, screw it" –- am I allowed to say screw it?  I just said it, oh well.

BB:  You're allowed to say a lot worse, this is the Internet.

JM:  Oh, really?! Oh, God, we should start this over.  (laughter) I could go mad now -- Sometimes it's hard to not go -- or if the audience isn't reacting the way -- even in a full house -- they're not reacting the way you're used to them reacting.  If they, for some reason, they're not laughing at the normal spots, sometimes you just want to go: "<sigh> C'mon, now I'm tired. Now, I showed up." But the truth is: they're just listening in a different way.  And a friend of mine used to say, when she was twelve-years-old, her mom would bring her into the city to see shows, and she loved everything; everything she saw.  And so, whenever she gets mad at an audience like that, she thinks of: there's a twelve-year-old girl out there who's loving this, and she does the show for her.  Which I think is a kind of a cool -- And it's true: someone out there, even in the worst shows that I've done, somebody's digging it.  There've been shows of Wicked where I've sounded like in hell in a handbasket, I am so cracked and jacked up, and I'm trying so hard, and I'm thinking: I should have called out tonight, my voice isn't behaving for whatever reason,. and you get to the stage door: and someone is going: "Your voice is so beautiful!"  And you're like: "What show did you see?" (laughter) "I don't understand.  I'm here to give you your money back." But, people go on this other journey that you're not aware of.

BB:  When you've got a voice as great as yours, it has to go down several steps before people start getting disappointed.

JM:  You just have to remember it's not -- it is about you, but it's also about them having their own experience, so let them just go, and just tell the story.  Do your job, and tell the story, and let them go where they want to go.

BB:  All right.  Well, we're about to find something out.  Right as you came in here, I sent off an email to our mailing list to give away several copies of your CD.

JM:  Wouldn't it be sad if no one wanted it though? Watch what's going to happen now.

BB:  We're gonna find out.

JM:  You're going to be like: "Nobody."

BB:  We actually had ten people respond.

JM:  Thank goodness!  What if there had just been no one?

BB:  In just twenty minutes.

JM:  Because my mom's not on your mailing list, so I don't know what I was going to do right there.  And she doesn't need another CD.

BB:  So, our first winner is Kevin Gardner from Nashville, Tennessee.

JM:  Oh my god, Kevin!  Kevin, you won, isn't that exciting?!  Oh, he's from Nashville -- I love Nashville so much, I sang there in the fall.  Kevin wants me to give a message to Tom, and he wants me to tell Tom to keep defying gravity.  Kevin, that's very original, (laughter) But I'm sure Tom totally appreciates it.  And I do love Nashville, so there you go.

BB:  All right, and second up is Michael Ruth from Kansas City, Missouri.

JM:  And Michael Ruth -- oh, this is to all of you. Oh, I get it.  So I'm just going to say hello, according to Michael Ruth, to all of the theatre lovers out there in America's heartland.  See, that's so cool.  I've never even been to Kansas City.  Thank you, Michael, for even caring.  Are you going to use my CD as a coaster?  You might.  Okay, go ahead.

BB:  Third up is Jennifer Andrew from Lansing, Michigan.

JM:  Jennifer writes: "If I'm a winner, please give a shout-out to my sister Sheri Andrew, the best twin sister in the world."  Now, how sweet is that?  It's so altruistic; it wasn't about her, it was about her twin sister.

BB:  How appropriate.

JM:  Go Jennifer, go!  Girl power!

BB: And our final winner didn't have a shout-out for you.

JM:  We can make something up.

BB:  Another one from Kansas City, Missouri—

BB and JM: Gary Crocker!

JM:  Gary, no shout-out?  I just want to say: Gary, you're one of my favorite people, and I can't wait to have dinner again. (laughs) No, oh my God, don't freak out on me,  it's fine, it's fine.  There was just no shout-out, so I thought I'd make something up.  But do you know Michael Ruth, Gary?  Gary Crocker and Michael Ruth, you both live in Kansas City, Missouri.  You should find each other.

BB:  And they're theatre fans.

JM:  Because you now both have my CD, and you're probably the only two people in Kansas City who do.  So, you might as well chitchat about it.  That's all I have to say.

BB:  All right. Well, I thank you so much for coming down and giving such a great conversation.

JM:  No problem, totally my pleasure.

BB:  It's been wonderful, the time has flown.

JM:  The time has flown.

BB:  And people can get your CD on Amazon or iTunes.

JM:  Yes, they can, at Sh-K-Boom, Amazon, iTunes, and in some stores, like Barnes & Noble, and Borders, etc.

BB:  Can people actually still get tickets to Wicked, while your still going to be in it?

JM:  I don't know (laughter) They can try.

BB:  How far in advance have they sold?

JM: That, I don't know.  It's just -- it's always a tough ticket, the Wicked ticket is.  Maybe someday I'll actually do another show, and [listeners] might be able to get tickets to that one -- Susie the Musical, the aforementioned Susie the Musical!

BB:  Yes.  Well, thank you so much.

JM:  Thank you.

Photos - 1.) Julia Murney - "I'm Not Waiting" Album Artwork; 2.) Julia Murney - Backstage at Lennon; 3.) Julia Murney and Brian D'Arcy James - The Wild Party Promortional Ad; 4.) Julia Murney and Kendra Kassebaum - Wicked Promotional Photo

   



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