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"The People in the Picture" with Donna Murphy at Studio 54
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"The People in the Picture" with Donna Murphy at Studio 54

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Roundabout Theatre Company

Todd Haimes, Artistic Director
Harold Wolpert, Managing Director
Julia C. Levy, Executive Director
et al.

Donna Murphy
The People in the Picture

Book & Lyrics by Iris Rainer Dart
Music by Mike Stoller & Artie Butler

Directed by Leonard Foglia
Musical Direction by Paul Gemignani
Musical Staging by Andy Blankenbuehler

Studio 54
254 West 54th Street

Alexander Gemignani, Christopher Innvar, Nicole Parker
Rachel Resheff, Hal Robinson, Lewis J. Stadlen
Joyce Van Patten, Chip Zien

And an ensemble of actors/singers/dancers

Set Design: Riccardo Hernandez
Costume Design: Ann Hould-Ward
Lighting Design: James F. Ingalls
Sound Design: Dan Moses Schreier
Projection Design: Elaine J. McCarthy
Hair & Wig Design: Paul Huntley
Makeup Design: Angelina Avallone
Orchestrations: Michael Starobin
Dance Music Arrangements: Alex Lacamoire
Dance Captain: Rachel Bress
Dialect Coach: Kate Wilson
Fight Director: Rick Sordelet
Production Stage Manager: Peter Wolf
Production Management: Aurora Productions
Casting: Jim Carnahan CSA & Stephen Kopel
Press Representative: Boneau/Bryan-Brown
General Manager: Rebecca Habel
Exec. Producer: Sydney Beers
Director of Marketing & Sales: David B. Steffen
Founding Director: Gene Feist
Associate Artistic Director: Scott Ellis

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
May 3, 2011

Donna Murphy is one of the most talented stars in any Broadway show right now, with extraordinary vocal talent, eloquent characterization, and efficient time shifts, between 1977 New York City and 1946 Warsaw, Poland. As Bubbie or Raisel, mostly without changing costume or wig, she moves across decades, inside and outside rafter high, gold picture frames. At once she’s youthful performer then arthritic grandmother, while the frames take on shapes and mark memories. These historical and poignant scenes play out in song, in film, and even onstage, invisible to the remaining New York cast. Of course, Bubbie sees everyone, including the ensemble of loving deceased friends and family. She even sees her daughter as a child, but to say more would be to reveal too much.

There’s a mysterious hidden thread that eloquently ties the storyline, and it’s an impassioned twist to this show. Bubbie’s daughter, Red (Nicole Parker), named for her bright red hair, reluctantly took Bubbie to live in her apartment, to care for her vivacious daughter, Jenny (Rachel Resheff). Jenny is fast learning about her Jewish heritage through Yiddish songs, dances, jokes, and skits. That’s because Bubbie, as Raisel, was an actress, singer, and dancer during the War in Poland, right through the Holocaust, and the fate of her vaudevillian troupe plays out front stage, when the past walks into the present, thanks to Bubbie’s wandering mind. It’s that wandering mind that beckons her re-enactments, but, for her daughter, signals dementia, and a “nice Jewish doctor” is called on to eventually recommend a “home’. Bubbie’s resistance to leaving Jenny becomes all the more meaningful, as we learn about young Red’s childhood.

On every level, I was mesmerized by the tastefully staged, brief images of the ravages of Hitler’s commands, as members of Raisel’s troupe are taunted by hooligans or stabbed in the street. The past also brings out Raisel’s red-haired husband, who escapes Poland alone, leaving Raisel to marry a friend, while already pregnant. The music returns, and, with Mike Stoller and Artie Butler’s music and Iris Rainer Dart’s lyrics, kletzmer clarinet tunes waft through Studio 54, how incongru¬¬¬ous. Stoller (of Leiber and Stoller’s “Hound Dog” fame), Butler, and Paul Gemignani, Music Director, have composed elegant melodies for this show, like “Remember Who You Are”, “For This”, “We Were Here”, and “Selective Memory”. Each of these songs transported the audience with rapture and empathy. There were moments of giddy entertainment, like dancing Rabbis in a parable about the Dybbuk. Each performer sang with poignancy and talent, especially Rachel Resheff, as little Jenny, “Matryoshka”, Nicole Parker as Red, “Now and Then”, and the “Warsaw Gang”, “Bread and Theatre”/”We Were Here”. The Orchestra was positioned on high, at each side of the front orchestra seating, with clear, scintillating musicality.

Andy Blankenbuehler’s musical staging brought the troupe through the frames and through the decades with well-choreographed dances and vibrant songs. Riccardo Hernandez’ giant frames kept the complexities of the storyline uncluttered and in focus. Ann Hould-Ward’s costumes were authentic and dignified. Dan Moses Schreier’s sound design was perfect, as I heard every lyric, with orchestral ornamentations. James F. Ingalls’ lighting was warm and enveloping, and Elaine J. McCarthy’s projections included colorful slides of Picasso’s cubist paintings, mixed with black white photographs of war-torn buildings. There were also videos created as 1930’s films, with Raisel and her troupe in compelling vignettes. It should be noted that the dialect coach must have worked overtime, as accents and gestures were so natural and convincing. Kudos to Donna Murphy, and kudos to all.

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For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at