As the lights dimmed and an evening suit-clad Bill Murray prepared to take to the stage, a couple behind began to speculate.
“What do you think it’ll be like, funny or serious,” asked one in hushed tones. “Serious,” replied the other.
The truth is, New Worlds, Murray’s latest on stage collaboration with leading musicians is both, an emotional ebb and flow of moving music, spoken word and instinctive humour fitting of the anarchic comedic king of Hollywood. Murray first teamed up with cellist Jan Vogler while travelling and would later become friends when meeting again in New York. The oddly–matched quartet for the Festival Theatre performance, one of only two UK shows, are made up of violinist Mira Wang and pianist Vanessa Perez.
Most of the more serious elements emanate from Wang’s “chicken wire” and Vogler’s “cigar box” (Murray’s descriptors, not mine).
All four performers hail from different parts of the world – the United States, China, East Germany and Venezuela.
New Worlds is billed as an exploration of issues including identity and American history. The trio of impresario accomplices provide an exquisite soundtrack to Murray’s throaty narration of fables.
One segment has him reading from Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn over the strains of “Moon River.”
Murray sings too - an array of tunes including Stephen Foster’s standard “Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair” and selections from West Side Story. These provide some of the show’s finest moments with Murray leaping around to “I Feel Pretty” with a surreal edge reminiscent of his Groundhog Days. There’re also snippets of Walt Whitman and Ernest Hemingway while Schubert, Bach and Piazzolla provide the backdrop.
New Worlds is a whistle stop tour through American history by one of its modern-day creative icons, as a hilariously bibulous Ulysses Grant anecdote testifies to.
Always the originator, it marks another milestone in Murray’s career and signifies a star so comfortable with his creative force he is happy to channel the genius of others.
If it feels natural, it’s maybe because music has featured in some of Murray’s best loved works – be it lounge singing Saturday Night Live sketches or Lost in Translation’s memorable karaoke scene.
“We are from four different continents,” Murray said of his collaborators in the pre-show blurb. “And when the continents come together, the music moves right across the peninsulas from one to the other. It’s just a short journey from one continent to the other.”
New Worlds magnificently showcases what a creative force collaboration can be, and there is no better frontman than Murray.