Heidi Grant Murphy

Times Like This

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Liner-notes writer Will Friedwald comments that we've come a long way in having opera singers tackle Broadway, maintaining that when the late Eileen Farrell did it, "the world of 'serious' music was aghast," but that now a singer like Heidi Grant Murphy would be denying her fans "one of their most basic pleasures" if she didn't. One can only reply that, if "the world of 'serious' music" has come around, the world of theater music remains skeptical. It is not unusual anymore for opera singers to presume that they can slum by cutting a batch of show tunes, but the sad truth is that they still aren't very good at it. As always, vocal chops are, of course, not the problem -- the problem is interpretation. Opera singers tend to approach their material from the point of view of pure sound, but show tunes (indeed, most pop songs) require interpretive ability and even a degree of characterization. Yet, over and over, Murphy sings without character. Her version of Frank Loesser's "If I Were a Bell" from Guys and Dolls, a song in which a previously prim Salvation Army volunteer experiences the ecstasy of romance for the first time, is treated, at best, as playful; it should be passionate. Stephen Sondheim's "On the Steps of the Palace" from Into the Woods is a complex interior monologue in which an undecided Cinderella tries to figure out whether she really wants to be a princess; Murphy concentrates on getting all those words out, but gives little sense of what they mean. In Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick's "Will He Like Me" and "(Vanilla) Ice Cream," both from She Loves Me, Murphy contents herself with channeling Barbara Cook, who introduced the songs on Broadway. Maybe she should have stuck to opera.

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