In his review of “LoveMusik,” Variety‘s David Rooney wrote that Donna Murphy as the iconic Lotte Lenya is “all cool looks, gangly limbs and swaggering vulgarity … a brilliant caricature ennobled by truth.”
Following on the heels of her star turn in “Follies” — the most fully realized interpretation of tough-as-diamonds Phyllis Rogers Stone in the show’s complicated history — it was an astounding return to form in the wake of a self-imposed two-year hiatus from Broadway.
Having previously won two Tonys (“Passion,” “The King and I”), Murphy might have nabbed a third if this had been a typical Broadway season. But given competition from Audra McDonald and Christine Ebersole, Gotham theater hasn’t seen this wealth of femme talent since the ’50s heyday of Mary Martin, Ethel Merman and Gwen Verdon.
What especially distinguishes Murphy onstage from those three legends, however, is her transformational quality. Visually, she has effortlessly morphed from the sickly Fosca in “Passion” to the harried career woman Ruth in “Wonderful Town” to the glamorous ex-showgirl Phyllis in “Follies.” More astonishing is her chameleonlike vocals.
“When I’m approaching a character, I never decide how they sing until I figure out how they speak,” she says. “I don’t copy Lenya’s phrasing,” she adds; “I’m inspired by it.”
Vocation: “The opportunity to communicate and share the experience of being human through different characters.”
Breakthrough: “Passion” (1994). “Every choice Stephen Sondheim makes, there is a world behind each note. … He is always writing with character in mind.”
Role model: Meryl Streep. “Her work is both impeccable and risk-taking.”
Career mantra: “What can I give through the work and what can I learn from the work?”
What’s next: Plays Scarlett Johansson’s mom in “The Nanny Diaries.”