BILL MURRAY, JAN VOGLER & FRIENDS @ Riverside Theatre gets 8/10

Bill Murray, Jan Vogler and Friends’ New Worlds @ Riverside Theatre
Wednesday, November 7, 2018


Yes, that Bill Murray. The evergreen movie star, comedian and generally eccentric legend was in Perth this week, performing with a three-piece classical ensemble. Not really a combination of things you ever thought might happen, but there he was on stage, singing, dancing, reciting and just being Bill fucking Murray, performing works from the classic American canon, alongside world-renowned German cellist Jan Vogler.

It was hard to know what to expect, but Riverside Theatre was packed with all sorts of people who were mostly just there to be in the man’s commanding presence. There’s no one quite like Murray, and you can’t imagine anyone else pulling something like this off – and for a couple of hours, along with his talented trio, he entertained the crowd in his trademark nonchalant, deadpan style. It was like nothing you could imagine, yet everything you think it would be.

A movie star of such 80s classics as Ghostbusters, Stripes and Caddyshack, through to Groundhog Day, The Life Aquatic and Lost in Translation – the man is an enigma who has made a career out of playing himself. Murray could have gone down any path he chose, but he chose to walk his own. He’s famously private and doesn’t have a manager or phone, but his love of music has been noted. In recent times he’s continued to bemuse, surprise and entertain, and has become something of legend online for his random public appearances, gatecrashing bachelor parties and karaoke nights, bartending at SXSW and stealing people’s fries.

His contribution to the arts was recently recognised when he received the Kennedy Centre’s Mark Twain Prize for American Humour in 2016. Perhaps this is one factor that inspired the crazy idea for this project. After meeting Vogler on a flight, the two got together and came up with the idea to collaborate, and realised there was something to it, and they recorded an album New Worlds. Combining classical music with classic American songs and literature – they found a synergy between the two. And while there was nothing overtly political, in today’s climate, it felt like there was a theme and message in all of it. Through words and song, Murray summoned the American spirit, and explored its history, reciting Hemingway, Twain, singing show tunes by Gershwin, Bernstein and Mancini, and more contemporary classics by Tom Waits and Van Morrison.

After setting the tone by introducing himself over the PA as “Jan Vogler from East Berlin”, the curtain dropped, and dressed smartly in a black suit and shirt, with a bolo tie and red rimmed glasses, Murray stepped forward to recite a quote from Hemingway: “That cello – I played it worse than anyone on earth,” as a way of introducing Vogel, who came out and launched into a moving piece immediately impressing everyone with his obvious talent. The two’s admiration and affection for each other was evident.

While much of the crowd probably don’t catch too many classical shows, this was a great showcase. Murray started on a serious note, reciting passages from James Fenimore Cooper’s Deerslayer (one book in the classic Leatherstocking Tales series that also features The Last Of The Mohicans).

Well aware of the oddity of the night, and how it might not be what some were expecting, Murray joked that this was the part of the show “where people sometimes look at each other and say, ‘We could go get a burger’.” While a small amount of boring sorts who may have been expecting more comedy, or something straight forward, did leave during the performance – most were entertained and delighted to allow the man to indulge himself for around two hours.

He read passages from Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast putting on French accents – the famous writer’s work that was the basis for Woody Allen’s movie Midnight In Paris. At times he would go sit behind the grand piano (played beautifully and dramatically by Vanessa Perez) to allow the trio the spotlight. Violinist Mira Wang (also Vogler’s wife) was impressive as she stood up to play, throwing her whole body into it, alternating between violently plucking the strings and passionately bowing them.

He sang Gershwin’s It Ain’t Necessarily So from Porgy & Bess in a low drawl and got the crowd to join in, commenting “Not bad… but not good either.” Throughout the night his subtle humour had the crowd in fits of laughter, while other times you could hear a pin drop as he read a powerful section from Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn where escaped black slave Jim talks about how Huck helped him. The night was well paced, as they mixed things up to keep it interesting, moving from serious to silly, spoken word to instrumental, classic show tunes to more contemporary covers.

He slow danced with Wang and ran through Tom Waits’ The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me), annoying Perez and playing the piano with his ass. A soaring highlight was a cover of Van Morrison’s When Will I Ever Learn to Live in God which really suited Murray’s gruff baritone bark. You wouldn’t say he has an amazing voice, but it has so much character in it and he changes it to suit the purpose like a pro. His comic genius was evident as he could conjure laughs with just the slightest expression, gesture or inflection of his voice.

The band really were impressive, whether playing Moon River, Henry Mancini’s timeless, beautiful theme from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, or backing Murray for some more upbeat numbers from Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story – I Feel Pretty, which incited guffaws as Murray sang and danced around, and the finale of America received a standing ovation.

They returned for a moving, sincere encore of the traditional Scottish song Loch Lomond, that he sang with a strong Scottish brogue, before thanking the crowd, saying how much he’d enjoyed finally getting to visit Perth, and meeting a quokka, “which couldn’t have been more lovely… or delicious.”

They busted out a great rendition of Smokey Robinson’s classic My Girl (changing some lyrics to refer to magpies) enticing another singalong and Vogler took centre stage for another incredible solo. In a hilariously fitting finale, Murray was presented with a bunch of roses, which he then proceeded to throw into the crowd, teasing people with them, running through the crowd, violently throwing them at people from a distance. And then just like that, he was gone, making us question whether it actually even happened.

The profoundness of the performance took a couple days to resonate its impact, as all the beautiful, classic works evoked a certain emotion… of a great, united country built by multicultural immigrants that inspired great art, beauty and prosperity. It was Murray’s own love letter to America, an enchanting evening that lived up to the man’s eccentric legend, and a once in a lifetime experience for those lucky enough to witness it. This sentimental optimism was perhaps best summed up by a quote from the beautiful poem Murray finished with, Blessing The Boats by Lucille Clifton: “May you open your eyes to water, water waving forever, and may you in your innocence, sail through this, to that.”


Photos by Adrian Thomson



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