REVIEW: Bill Murray, Jan Vogler & Friends at Riverside Theatre
Bill Murray is an odd man, and this was an odd show.
From the first moments, as he spoke to the audience from behind the curtain, it felt as though we were all in on a private joke. He invited us into his private salon to discuss literature and music and the meaning of art, and we listened and laughed along with him.
The origin story of Bill Murray, Jan Vogler & Friends: New Worlds contributes to the mythology that has grown around Bill Murray over recent years. It has been told that Bill met cellist Jan Vogler on a long haul flight and struck up a friendship over what I can only imagine was a meandering and esoteric conversation which became the concept for New Worlds. This is a man who values human connection above the trappings of fame and celebrity.
The musicians seem struck by how lucky they are to have found this bizarre man in their midst. While it is definitely Jan who is in charge, the four performers have a marked fondness for each other, and are obviously having fun with their performances. Thsi is fortunate because New Worlds is more of a shambolic jam session than a classical music recitation.
Bill can sing, but he can’t really carry a solo. His rendition of 'Jeannie With the Light Brown Hair’ is off key and out of time, but full of unexpected emotion. The cover of Tom Waits’ ‘The Piano Has Been Drinking’ is the most lively moment in the show’s two hour plus run. His voice is put to much better use reading through passages from literature, where his deep, cracked voice blends seamlessly with with Jan’s cello. Musically, he does best with the old blues song. Then, in the encore featuring ‘You Take the High Road’, we find what his voice was always designed for — pub singalongs in mid century Ireland.
I left not knowing entirely sure what New Worlds was all about. The connections between songs and words seemed tenuous at best, and I felt like I’d missed the point somehow. The high brow literature and classical music concept fooled me into thinking there was some social or political statement they were trying to make. But in the end, this show is about friendship and stories — just like Bill himself.