From a Belt-Off to Peter Gallagher’s Charm, Julia Murney’s 5 Most Memorable Nights Onstage

News   From a Belt-Off to Peter Gallagher’s Charm, Julia Murney’s 5 Most Memorable Nights Onstage The Wicked and Wild Party star looks back at her theatrical career so far.
Julia Murney
Julia Murney Jason Moody
Julia Murney in <i>Wicked</i>
Julia Murney in Wicked Joan Marcus

Every time I have the pleasure of watching a performance featuring Julia Murney, who boasts a powerhouse, vibrato-filled belt that is as expressive as it is exciting and rangy, I leave thinking how wonderful an artist she is, not only a terrific singer but an equally skilled actor. In fact, whether she's starring on Broadway in Wicked (one of my favorites to have played the misunderstood, green-faced Elphaba), Off-Broadway in The Wild Party (her sensational breakout role) or stepping into a limited engagement (her work in the York Theatre Company production of Closer Than Ever was one of the highlights of that summer), Murney always manages to impress. The multitalented artist will next be seen as Sara Jane Moore in Yale Repertory Theatre’s production of the award-winning Stephen Sondheim-John Weidman musical Assassins, which will be presented March 17–April 8 at the University Theatre in Connecticut. Directed by artistic director James Bundy, she will be joined by Stanley Bahorek, Stephen DeRosa, Robert Lenzi, Lauren Molina, and more.

I recently asked Murney to pen a list of her most memorable nights onstage. The gifted singing actor says, “It's hard to parse out just a few moments because as I started thinking about shows I've done, little things leapt to mind: someone's smile or the way a bar of music always made my heart sing. And there are so, so many of those moments. But here's a few…”

Closing night of The Wild Party

Doing this show taught me so much about so many things, but one of the big ones is that not everything succeeds the way some people predict. The night we closed, we had already gone through the highs of audiences that made us feel like rock stars to learning the show wasn't going to Broadway and everything in between. But that night, knowing that group of actors and musicians would never be together again in the same way was simultaneously heartbreaking and soul-filling. Looking in the eyes of all of those gorgeous creatures made me know that no matter how it can break your heart, theatre can feed you like nothing else can.

Funny Girl/Chess Actors Fund concerts

These one-night-only free falls are not for the weak of heart. You learn an entire show and perform it one time only in front of a jammed, sold-out crowd. It's exhilarating if you don't faint. In Funny Girl, there was a different Fanny Brice in every scene, and I got to sing “People” because Audra McDonald—while insanely talented—has yet to figure out how to be two places at once and had to bail because she was filming. For whatever reason, our director Peter Flynn and MD Seth Rudetsky decided to let me have a crack at that iconic song, and I give a million props to Peter Gallagher (our Nicky Arnstein) for being so calm and charming in our scene that I had no choice but to just tell the story of the scene and sing the song and not throw up on myself from nerves.

Chess was a one-nighter with, among others, Josh Groban and Adam Pascal, and I was supposed to play Svetlana, but the pop star playing Florence dropped out rather last minute, and they asked me to step in and learn all of her material, which I did not know. I stole a really high note for “Nobody's Side” from some Swedish recording I heard and jokingly sang it during a rehearsal, but note to self: Don't try anything crazy in front of Seth Rudetsky as he will insist you do it the night of. It's a q sharp or something like that, and I did it, and the roar when I was done with the number was unlike anything I've experienced.

Wicked tour Cleveland

This was an awful moment, but made me feel overwhelmed with love. I had a bunch of sickness back to back, and it was my first Saturday trying to go back to a two-show day. The matinee was crunchy, but I wanted to do my job so badly, I thought I could just push my way through the evening. As soon as I started the first song, I realized that was not going to be the case. I barely got through that and certainly was not going to get through the show. Of course, in that show they've got to get your understudy green, so I had to continue until she was ready...and the way that cast let me know they had my back until I got to leave is something I'll never forget. I was so devastated and mortified, and they were filled with such love and help and above all else, moral support, just catching my eye and nodding when they could. They helped me know that they were with me and it was going to be okay.

The Belt-Off from First You Dream

It's not actually titled that. We originally did this show down at the Signature in Virginia. It was the most thrilling thing to get to be in a rehearsal room every day with John Kander. Our music supervisor/creator David Loud had chosen “Maybe This Time” for Heidi Blickenstaff and “The Money Tree” for me, and then she and I got it in our heads that they should be intertwined. They made us feel so much a part of the creative process that when we suggested it, and with David's arranging prowess, Bill Brohn's orchestrations, and John Kander's genius, it morphed into a duet that culminates in the two of us belting our heads off. Hence, the belt-off. We got to be in the room and watch all of those people work at the height of their powers. It felt like watching a unicorn graze in a field. It's one of my all-time favorites.

Senior editor Andrew Gans also pens the monthly Their Favorite Things.

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