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The Landing - Off-Broadway

The Vineyard Theatre presents a world premiere musical by John Kander and Greg Pierce.

The Landing’s Julia Murney Looks Back on Star Turns in Wicked, The Wild Party & More

The Landing’s Julia Murney Looks Back on Star Turns in Wicked, The Wild Party & More
Julia Murney
Julia Murney on the challenges of playing Elphaba, Queenie, the Baker's Wife and more.

Julia Murney is beloved among fans and fellow Broadway stars for all the right reasons: She has a gorgeous, unique voice, and she’s real—sympathetic and believable onstage and warmly supportive of her colleagues offstage. Best known as one of the earliest Elphabas in Wicked, Murney works steadily in regional theaters and off-Broadway, including an acclaimed dramatic performance last season as the mother of an autistic son in Falling. She’s currently juggling three roles in the Vineyard Theatre’s premiere of The Landing, a trio of one-act musicals by John Kander and Greg Pierce. For her Role Call, the actress chose a mix of NYC shows and out-of-town favorites.

Role That Was the Most Challenging
“It’s an honor to be part of what I call the “green girl sisterhood” in Wicked [2006 on tour; 2007 on Broadway]. Elphaba is the Mick Jagger of the show, and the role is insanely satisfying. It was also the most difficult thing I’ve ever done; I was very intimidated by it vocally, and it was a test to my mental well being, in terms of stamina. I saw Idina [Menzel] on opening night, which was seared in my brain, and I also saw Shoshana [Bean] and Eden Espinosa—their voices are extraordinary and so not what I can do, so I approached it from the character point of view. I saw Elphaba as a misunderstood girl who becomes a strong woman and finds a way to harness her powers. My Glinda was Kendra Kassebaum, and I love the impact the show can have when it’s played by two women who are a little older. I had discovered the novel 10 years earlier and really loved it, so to get to express Gregory Maguire’s ideas through Winnie Holtzman’s words and Stephen Schwartz’s music was very special.”

Role I Wish I Could Have Done Longer
The Wild Party [2000, as Queenie] was such an odd situation, since two versions of the same story were done simultaneously. [Murney starred in an off-Broadway production with a score by Andrew Lippa; Toni Collette played Queenie in a Broadway production with a score by Michael John LaChiusa.] We got a lot of nice reviews, but one very powerful newspaper did not care for us—nor did they care for the other one! I worked on the show for four years, and to me, Queenie was a lost soul who got caught in the habit of this [destructive] man [Burrs, played by Brian d’Arcy James]. It was a difficult show because there was nobody redeeming in it: Queenie was the one you rooted for, but even she was a hot mess! I learned so much from The Wild Party, not the least that when everyone says, ‘This show is going to change your life,’ unforeseen things can come up. Sometimes you don’t move to Broadway. But I never saw The Wild Party as a failure. I am so proud of the show.”

Role That Was the Most Satisfying
“I was as grateful as I could possibly be to have been cast in Falling [2012, as Tami; Best Actress Drama Desk Award nomination]. It was about a family with two children, one of them a huge, severely autistic 18-year-old whose outbursts sometimes become violent. In real life, the parents of these kids are amazing people, and the play didn’t offer any conclusions or solutions; it’s simply a day in their life. It was very intense, and people would ask me, ‘How do you do that eight times a week?’ My answer became, “I only have to do it for 80 minutes; our author [Deanna Jent] has done it for 18 years with her own son.’ The most meaningful part was when parents [in the audience] would come up to me afterward and say, ‘You just showed me my life.’”

Role That Was the Most Perfectly Written
“Oh my gosh, the Baker’s Wife in Into the Woods [1997, Pioneer Theatre Company in Salt Lake City] is perfect. Her scenes and her score are so beautifully written. You get to make everybody cry, then you get to die and you don’t have to learn ‘Your Fault,’ which is the hardest song. It’s golden! If you’re a theater nerd like I am, some issue will come up in your life and you’ll think of a Sondheim lyric. For me, Sondheim is the musical equivalent of Thornton Wilder's Our Town: If you’ve lived a bit and lost some people, his lyrics are metaphors for your life. Especially Into the Woods—you can think of any lyric and say, ‘I know what that means.’”

Role That Sparked a Fantastic Friendship
“Before The Landing, which I’m doing now, I was in the Kander and Ebb concert revue First You Dream at Signature Theatre in Virginia [2009]. That’s where I got to know John Kander, a gift I would wish for everyone because he is a tremendous man. I went in thinking, ‘Oh this will be fun, I know this music,’ and then I discovered how astounding Fred Ebb’s lyrics are. The challenge and satisfaction of singing ‘Colored Lights’ every night blew my mind. Heidi Blickenstaff and I had an amazing duet of ‘The Money Tree’ and ‘Maybe This Time.’ The show moved to the Kennedy Center unexpectedly during the workshop of The Landing, and John Kander called me and said, ‘I will understand whatever you decide, but my pitch is for you to do The Landing because I wrote it for you.’ I never knew to dream of a moment like that!”

Role I Would Love to Do Again
Ragtime [2004, as Mother; North Carolina Theatre] is another one of those perfect musicals. If I was forced to do one sequence on a loop for the rest of my days, it would be the whole ‘Our Children’ sequence between Mother and Tateh. It’s the prettiest pas de deux; you hear Terrence McNally’s words plainly, and then the underscoring comes back in. So much craft went into that, and to get to fall in love with Michael Rupert [as Tateh]? It felt so easy, in the most delicious way. Mother isn’t a character you start out sympathizing with. She’s someone you look at and think, ‘You’re going to have to grow up and see a larger world,’ and I found that very interesting to explore. It’s a show I would like to do again.”

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