Live review: Bill Murray, Jan Vogler & Friends, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Mon 18 Jun
- David Pollock
- 19 June 2018
credit: Greg Macvean
Mix of spoken word, classical music and song from Hollywood great
With this most unexpected concert performance by sometime Ghostbuster turned elder statesman of affable oddness Bill Murray being billed as an evening of music, those in the crowd who hadn't spoilered the show with advance notices from the States may have been unsure what to expect. Although, as evidenced by the two guys sitting near the front in Steve Zissou hats, the movie nerd factor was palpable in the air.
Seats were beginning to be shifted in uncomfortably, then, after a very straight-faced opening ten minutes in which a classical chamber trio comprising acclaimed cellist Jan Vogler, violinist Mira Wang and pianist Vanessa Perez played while Murray recited the text of an interview between George Plimpton and Ernest Hemingway, and the words of James Fenimore Cooper backed by the music of Schubert 'because both had a great interest in nature.'
'It's around about now,' said Murray, just as those before him were coming to terms with the fact their faces may not break into laughter all evening, 'that our audiences start to say, "I could have had a baked potato instead." Let me tell you, this stuff is rugged … but I promise you, the worst of it is over.' The music remained virtuosic, but as Murray lightened up, so did their performance. His anticipated versatility as a comedian, actor and storyteller was all fully on display, alongside extensive deployment of his unexpectedly capable singing voice.
Or rather, as we heard in Lost in Translation's karaoke sequence, his vocal is creaky and inexpert, but the commitment and force of personality which he invests in it is utterly affecting. Murray added a comedic lilt to George and Ira Gershwin's 'It Ain't Necessarily So', engaging the audience in a progressively more enthusiastic singalong, while Van Morrison's 'When Will I Ever Learn to Live in God?' was striking, with Murray embodying the old rogue who desperately wants to learn to behave.
The comedy is decidedly Murrayesque, but light-touch and not disrespectful to the music, as he waltzes with Wang and later muscles in on Perez' playing during a woozy take on Tom Waits' 'The Piano Has Been Drinking'. Yet there's real heart to this exploration of the great American song – and story – writers, and it's interesting to note the subtle plea for tolerance and acceptance murmuring below the surface, particularly with regard to America's migrant tradition.
One breathtaking extended sequence saw Murray, unaccompanied, read an excerpt from Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in which Huck lies to protect his former slave friend Jim from harm, book-ended by the German-American Vogler's solo 'Moon River'. A main set concluding medley from West Side Story, that old-time bastion of Latino youth in the United States, included 'Somewhere (There's a Place For Us)', a heavily-mugged 'I Feel Pretty' and 'America', while the encore featured Marty Robbins' borderland classic 'El Paso'.
There was also room for a creaking 'Loch Lomond' in a somewhat over-egged Scottish accent, although the sentiment was deservedly received with rapturous applause. What came through in the end was a taste of Murray's sheer ability and versatility, and his somewhat old-time sense of romance, with the bouquet of flowers with which he was presented gleefully distributed on a walkabout through the crowd ('It's your birthday? YOU LOOK AMAZING,' he hollered at one woman in Peter Venkman fashion). Unlike many of his peers he's also a true original in the flesh, and this was a good format in which to make that clear.
Bill Murray and Jan Vogler
Bill Murray and Jan Vogler present a program that showcases the core of the American values in literature and music. A show that communicates the bridges artists have built between America and Europe.