Music & Spoken Word review: Bill Murray, Jan Vogler and Friends, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Bill Murray and Jan Vogler  PIC: Peter Rigaud
Bill Murray and Jan Vogler PIC: Peter Rigaud
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Despite being forewarned that this wouldn’t be a traditional evening of anecdotal entertainment from the beloved Bill Murray, it’s probably fair to say that no one in the audience knew quite what to expect.

Bill Murray, Jan Vogler and Friends, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh ****

There was an initial sense of palpable unease when, after being greeted by a warm ovation, a soberly-suited Murray launched into dramatic readings from the works of Ernest Hemingway and Walt Whitman. A chamber trio then played a sonorous Bach piece.

Murray, an old pro, instantly broke the tension in the room by drily acknowledging what we were all thinking. After that first big laugh, he had us in the palm of his hand.

Accompanied by renowned German cellist Jan Vogler, Chinese violinist Mira Wang and Venezuelan pianist Vanessa Perez, Murray’s colourful mosaic of spoken word, comedy and music was a non-jingoistic celebration of positive American values; a heartfelt reminder, much needed in the Trump era, that America has blessed the world with humane, life-enriching art.

Highlights included Murray – who puts his all into his charmingly erratic vocals - leading an enthusiastic sing-along through Gershwin’s It Ain’t Necessarily So, a suitably chaotic version of Tom Waits’ The Piano Has Been Drinking and a beautifully fragile take on Stephen Foster’s Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair.

When Murray climactically strode down the aisles throwing red roses among his ecstatic throng, I realised I was in the presence of a modern American folk hero, one who embodies the generous and eccentric spirit of his homeland.

A surprisingly magical evening.