Murphy Steps in as Bette Midler’s Temporary Replacement
It is no secret that the extraordinary box office success of the current revival of Hello, Dolly! has a lot to do with the star, Bette Midler. The production won four Tony Awards, including those for Best Revival of a Musical, and Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical for Bette Midler. Nevertheless, Midler will not be in the production forever, and out of necessity, the producers are testing the waters to see if the show might survive without her. Donna Murphy, the five-time Tony Award nominee from her performances in the shows Passion, The King and I, Wonderful Town, LoveMusik, and The People in the Picture, has stepped in for Midler on her prescheduled vacations. The show began on March 15, 2017 with Bette Midler performing every performance, but due to Midler’s stipulations and busy schedule, the show only played maximum seven performances per week, sometimes fewer. Then, beginning June 13, 2017, the show stepped up to the usual eight performances a week, as Donna Murphy began to perform the role on Tuesday evenings. In addition to serving as a way for the show to play a full performance week, it also allowed Murphy to get her feet wet in a role that she would then be taking on full-time during Midler’s pre-scheduled vacation. This vacation began two weeks ago, and the box office took a huge dip, yet critics came back to review Murphy in the production, and were charmed.
While Bette Midler is a household name, Donna Murphy is no amateur. Murphy has a loyal fanbase of theatre aficionados, and her performance as Dolly went over very well with the press. Jeremy Gerard from Deadline began his review by refusing to compare Midler and Murphy, one above the other; he stated that each brings her own star qualities to the iconic role. As for Murphy, he was pleased by her interpretation of Dolly as a gabby, gleeful, and game matchmaker. Meanwhile, Joe Dziemianowicz from the New York Daily News remarked that Murphy is a joyous, giddy delight, and Jessica Derschowitz from Entertainment Weekly called her different, but no less joyful, than Midler. She also preferred Murphy to Midler, because with Midler, you can’t see past the incredibly recognizable actress, but with Murphy, it is easier to suspend disbelief and see the character of Dolly. Matt Windman from AM New York came right out to say that he prefers Murphy over Midler; while he admits Midler is magnificent in the role, he also found her, at age 71, to be struggling with the physical demands of the role. On the other hand, Murphy is unrelenting and larger than life in her portrayal.
A Major Dip at the Box Office with Murphy
Nevertheless, the show is clearly struggling with Murphy in the role. While Midler returns from her prescheduled 2-week vacation this upcoming Wednesday, the past two weeks have been dismal for the show financially. Every single week of the run featuring Midler, the revival brought in a weekly box office of over 115% of its gross potential, breaking the $2 million mark on numerous occasions. This past week, the week ending July 9, 2017, with Murphy in the role 8 times a week, the weekly gross was just $722,574, or 48.18% of gross potential. The previous week, which also featured Murphy, had a weekly gross of $936,603, or 62.46% of gross potential. While the producers are likely thrilled that Midler is returning to the role, Murphy has several more scheduled performances to step in. Specifically, Donna Murphy will perform the role of Dolly Levi on the evening of Sunday, July 30th, the week of September 6th through 10th, the evening of Sunday, October 15th, the evening of Monday, October 30th, the week of November 1st through 5th, the matinee performance on Monday, November 24th, and the evening performance of Sunday, January 7th. Tickets are currently on sale until January 14, 2018, at which point the show will presumably need to find a new star. As demonstrated by these past two weeks, Donna Murphy is not likely the star that the show needs to sustain itself. The question is whether there is anyone who would satisfy fans in this revival as much as Midler has.
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