A new Bill Murray enchanted the Riverside audience
Bill Murray fans have seen him in "Caddyshack," "Ghostbusters," "Groundhog Day," "Meatballs" and a gaggle of Wes Anderson films, but hundreds of fans who attended his performance at the Riverside Theater tonight saw a completely different side of the actor and comedian.
Called "New Worlds," the show features Murray with world-renowned German cellist Jan Vogler, violinist Mira Wang and pianist Vanessa Perez.
The show, which is traveling the world this year, makes connections between different artistic mediums including music, literature, poetry and humor. Even with its title, the show is actually a combination of the Old and New Worlds, represented by the material chosen and by the fact the four musicians are all from different continents.
Murray read excerpts from the works of Walt Whitman, Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain and former poet laureate and the very much still alive Billy Collins. He sang songs by Van Morrison, John Prine, Stephen Foster and three of Bernstein and Sondheim's from "West Side Story." In a very bittersweet moment that some of the audience members seemed to think was humor, he ballroom danced with Wang while the rest of the group played Astor Piazzolla's "Oblivion."
Not surprisingly, Murray has a nearly flawless reading voice and is able to gracefully and masterfully convey the accents of the characters in the readings.
The musicians played everything from J.S. and George Gershwin and Henry Mancini to Dmitri Shostakovich and Johann Sebastian Bach (who Murray said was "a friend of Jan's").
Sometimes it all flowed together, sometimes a piece of the show was isolated, and the moods ranged from silly to serious to sad. At times the audience sang along, prompted by Murray, to songs like "My Girl" and "The Bonnie Banks o' Loch Lomond."
It was hard to believe that was Bill Murray – Bill Effing Murray – on stage, right in front of us, doing something completely different from how we know him best. And although he infused the show with quips and humorous one liners, Murray was overall in a serious zone.
Some of the audience members shouted out to Murray, who ignored all of the comments, and others laughed at times that weren't funny, but those audience members likely showed up expecting the "Phil Connor" Bill Murray. And it just wasn't that.
But, almost as if on cue, at the point in the program that read "Musical Surprise," someone yelled out one of the more indecipherable concert-goer Milwaukeeanisms and the band launched into Tom Waits' "The Piano has been Drinking (Not Me)."
But Murray gets all this and he even made a joke about it early in the show, saying, "This is where people usually get up and get out."
Overall, however, the audience adored Murray, the musicians and the show, with a standing ovation and volcanic clapping that resulted in a 7-song encore and Murray ending the show by throwing long-stemmed red flowers into the crowd.
Most of all, the show was surreal. Moments like when Murray sang "I Feel Pretty" while prancing around the stage and when he played the piano (which had been drinking) with his butt and when he read from "Huck Finn" unedited for our times and in dialect, it was incredibly clear that he is pushing boundaries, trying new forms of entertainment and that he is a genius when it comes to tone, timing and audience interaction.
At 67, Murray continues to reinvent himself. That's not to say he's gone from Hollywood forever – his voice is in Wes Anderson's "Isle of Dogs" that's currently in theaters – but it's fascinating and inspiring to watch someone with so many accolades and experiences move into new terrain with an abundance of talent and confidence.
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