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This was a curious and uniquely pointless evening, in all the best and worst ways. Bill Murray deadpanned his way through comic prose, he solemnly recited classic American poetry, he cracked wise, he sang showtunes and pop songs (quite badly), he even danced (very badly) and ran through the auditorium distributing roses (quite well). All this behaviour was dignified by the presence of a remarkable chamber trio – German cellist Jan Vogler (who met the comic actor on a transatlantic flight a few years ago), Chinese violinist Mira Wang (who is married to Vogler) and Venezuelan pianist Vanessa Perez – who interspersed the prose and poetry with elegantly arranged pop and classical music.
Murray, for what it’s worth, seemed aware of the slight pointlessness of the show. “This is the moment in the programme where people look at each other and say, maybe we should go get some food,” he said about 15 minutes in. “This is your moment to escape if you want to.”
Still, it was lapped up by an audience who clearly wanted to gawp at a Hollywood legend and who rewarded him with no fewer than five standing ovations. Murray could probably have read out selections from the phone directory, occasionally raising a quizzical eyebrow, and much of this crowd would have been howling with laughter. Some were even chuckling indulgently during his deadly serious recitation from Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Some literary and musical juxtapositions worked well. James Thurber’s comic short story If Grant Had Been Drinking at Appomattox (a parody of counterfactual histories of the American civil war) was set to a slurring, playful section of a Ravel violin sonata; an extract from James Fenimore Cooper’s The Deerslayer interlocked beautifully with a Schubert trio; while an amusing Lawrence Ferlinghetti poem about a dog’s casual voyage of discovery around urban San Francisco was accompanied by a suitably quirky Bach piece.
Murray’s singing voice was rather more problematic. His Satchmo-style reading of It Ain’t Necessarily So played up Ira Gershwin’s relentlessly punning lyric and showed him to be a talented minstrel, while there were moments where you could imagine Murray as the third Blues Brother alongside his old Saturday Night Live colleagues John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. An extemporary howl through Van Morrison’s When Will I Ever Learn to Live in God and wayward versions of songs by Smokey Robinson, John Prine and Bruce Hornsby suggest that Murray, like so many comedians, is a frustrated rock star.
But, for a skilled comic, his timing was all over the place. He rushed through songs, often nearly a whole beat ahead of the rest of the band. When tapping sleigh bells along to the Van Morrison song, he shifted from the offbeat to the onbeat and then back again. Tom Waits’s The Piano Has Been Drinking suited Murray’s crumpled baritone, but was ruined by his inability to keep time. When he gravely intoned The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond, it was not entirely clear if he was trying to do a vaudevillian Scots accent or attempting authenticity. After a few giggles, the audience slowly realised he was being serious.
There was plenty to admire here musically, and some poetic choices that will have us exploring the American literary canon, but it still seemed rather less than the sum of its parts.
Source: The Guardian
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