Bill Murray and Jan Vogler could be the odd couple except that that name was already taken. Okay, “odd” is probably too strong a word. An unlikely pairing seems more appropriate because Murray is a Hollywood actor, comedian and occasional bartender, and Vogler a world-renown cellist. New Worlds saw both men making their Sydney Opera House debuts and this was like a chaotic roll into Bill and Co.’s fun-house.
The night was billed as a kind of exploration of music and literature. It was an ambitious undertaking with Murray acting as a kind of madcap MC for the night. He adopted different voices and characters to cover all the different works. It meant you’d get a solemn reading of Walt Whitman, Ernest Hemingway or Mark Twain one minute–and then belting out a show tune like “America” the next. Murray also danced around the stage rather enthusiastically to another West Side Story track, “I Feel Pretty.”
Vogler played his excellent cello. To Murray it was some, “Squawking on a box over there,” even though the classical music fans would disagree with that appraisal. Mira Wang played the role of accomplished violinist and one-time dancer with Murray. Vanessa Perez tinkered the ivories for musical standards (“Moon River”), show tunes and even pop songs like “My Girl.” This was a celebration of history, art and tradition. It could be high-class one moment and utter silliness the next, so it’s difficult to write about this show and do it justice.
It was hard to know who was in the audience at this gig. Were they diehard fans of films like Caddyshack, Groundhog Day or Ghostbusters? Were they classical music aficionados or people who love theatre? I’m a Bill Murray fan and while I enjoyed the show, there were moments where I wished he’d done a live Q &A. He is a captivating and charismatic character, and Murray alone would have been more than enough to sate the appetites of Australian audiences. New Worlds reminded me of raspberry and chocolate; I love them both separately but don’t always appreciate the two mixed together.
Murray is a versatile and chameleon-like performer. He can bend and contort his timing and delivery to fit in with whoever he’s working with. This show works because he is such a talented guy. Murray has a cheeky and endearing charm and a quick wit. There aren’t many people who could get away with tossing long-stemmed roses around the Opera House but Murray made everyone desperate to participate in the anarchy. Steve Martin could also get away with something like this because he is also off-the-wall at times. In fact, he’d probably serenade you with a banjo song along with some jokes.
New Worlds was a strange blend of high and low art, comedy, music and adventure. The Opera House hasn’t seen anything as light-hearted and quirky before and may not see it ever again. New Worlds was like the Bill Murray variety hour; it was an eclectic, giddy and indulgent party exploding with energy and ideas. A sonic boom.
THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The author attended the performance at the Sydney Opera House on Friday, November 9th. The show continues its tour to New Zealand, Brisbane and Melbourne. For tickets and more details head HERE.