Rarely has a show been more aptly named than Anthony Murphy’s A Joyful Noise which debuted recently at Green Room 42. Murphy, a self-professed Broadway baby, was dazzling throughout. The show was like a feast with each song offering a new course that deepened the experience and satisfied the musical palette in new and exciting ways. Expertly directed by Christopher Metzger-Timson and backed by a terrific band led by music director Darnell White on piano, the singer immediately won over the room and never let it go until the triumphant climax. White’s arrangements were constantly surprising and exciting, and his musicians—GordonBonnet on guitar, John Miller on bass, Danny Malone on drums, Sandrew Gutauskas on sax, and Wayne Tucker on trumpet—each had their moments to shine, and shine they did! But center stage, in a stunning black and white suit, accessorized with a rainbow fan, Murphy was the star and the rightful center of attention.
Michael John LaChiusa’s “Welcome to My Party” (from The Wild Party) was the perfect choice to open and blew the roof off the place. The smile was big, the joy was bigger. The singer proclaimed, “Joy sticks with you…joyfully ever after!” He then gave the crowd a fierce and exhilarating take on Pippin’s “Simple Joys” (Stephen Schwartz) that was far removed from the nursery rhyme simplicity with which it is usually done. Backed by Bonnet’s expressive guitar, Murphy invested “I Say a Little Prayer” (Burt Bacharach, Hal David) with an emotional heft I had never imagined it possessed by setting it in terms of a parent and child rather than romance. His voice slid effortlessly into creamy Luther Vandross territory.
A welcome recall of Full Monty’s “Breeze off the River” (David Yazbek) slipped into “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” (Otis Redding, Steve Cropper) like a comfortable pair of slippers. Telling a story about how he persuaded his younger sister to visit him in New York City, he offered a very personal “Not While I’m Around” (Stephen Sondheim from Sweeney Todd) that substituted strength for gentility and it was thrilling, in no small part because of the inventive, full-band arrangement. The energy and chemistry was unstoppable when he was joined by childhood friend Blaine Alden Krauss for a delightful “Forget You” (CeeLo Green, Bruno Mars, Philip Lawrence, Art Levine, Brody Brown) done in a (for the most part) cleaned-up version, accompanied by solo guitar from Bonnet who, it turns out, was another childhood friend.
Next came a Sammy Davis Jr. “trilogy” of sorts that showed off yet another side (or other sides) of the performer as he managed to recreate a classic Vegas sound with that great band and, in particular, the horn section. Inspired by his transformation from class clown to class showman, Murphy was right at home in the sophistication and style of “The Joker” (Anthony Newley, Leslie Bricusse, from The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd) complete with some Fosse moves creating a spectacular showcase for his sizzling talent. In the old days, folks would have been lining up to write Broadway shows for him. His “Mr. Bojangles” (Jerry Jeff Walker) was buoyant, moving and dramatic; it was part character song, part star turn, and all wonderful. Murphy’s “Old Black Magic” (Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer) might be able to singlehandedly revive New York night clubs.
Pulling a few examples from his ever-growing resume, he displayed showstopping panache on “Friend Like Me” (Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, from Aladdin) and “The Dress” (David Bryan, Joe DiPietro, from Diana). Commenting on a life of auditions, and losing parts, and getting parts, and losing parts, he offered a surprising “If It’s Magic” (Stevie Wonder) that once again transformed a well-known song into a personal statement. White’s solo piano was exquisite on this number. “Naughty” (Tim Minchin, from Matthilda) was not only a bit of personal philosophy but an infectious audition for a future role. The singer then went to church with the assistance of Austin Rivers, Madison Rodrigues, and Josiah Hicks on rousing backup vocals with “Revival” (Gregory Porter, Troy Miller). The show closed with a soul-stirring arrangement of “No One is Alone” (Stephen Sondheim, from Into the Woods) that made it a gospel number, emotionally charged and electrifying. I am not sure whether Green Room 42 has rafters, but if it does, trust that they were shaken!
Bringing back his three-voice choir, Anthony Murphy encored with, appropriately, “Joyful” (Dante Bowe, Ben Schofeld) in which the joy he took in singing (a joy that the audience shared with him) turned the room from a church to a cathedral. Anthony Murphy filled A Joyful Noise with such talent, passion, good will and emotion that it soared from the first minute to the last. It was a triumph.
Presented at The Green Room 42, Yotel Times Square, 570 Tenth Ave., on April 24, 2023.
Gerry Geddes has conceived and directed a number of musical revues—including the Bistro- and MAC Award-winning "Monday in the Dark with George" and "Put On Your Saturday Suit-Words & Music by Jimmy Webb"—and directed many cabaret artists, including André De Shields, Helen Baldassare, Darius de Haas, and drag artist Julia Van Cartier. He directs "The David Drumgold Variety Show," currently in residence at Manhattan Movement & Arts Center, and has produced a number of recordings, including two Bistro-winning CDs. He’s taught vocal performance at The New School, NYU, and London’s Goldsmith’s College and continues to conduct private workshops and master classes. As a writer and critic, he has covered New York’s performing arts scene for over 40 years in both local and national publications; his lyrics have been sung by several cabaret and recording artists. Gerry is an artist in residence at Pangea, and a regular contributor to the podcast “Troubadours & Raconteurs.” He just completed a memoir of his life in NYC called “Didn’t I Ever Tell You This?”