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Donna Murphy: 4 Musical Roles the ‘Hello, Dolly!’ Star Should Tackle

Category Broadway

|by Mark Robinson |

Donna as Dolly is just the beginning

With Donna Murphy giving her final handful of performances as the title character in the current Broadway revival of Hello, Dolly! – a role that has brought her unanimous raves from audiences and critics alike – it is fun to speculate what characters we’d like to see her tackle next. The two-time Tony-winning actress is known for the deep thought and nuanced emotion she infuses in each character she plays, so where will her myriad talents be best-suited for her next foray into the Broadway musical? We have some ideas. 

Donna Murphy takes her curtain call after performing as Ruth in ‘Wonderful Town’ on Broadway (Photo: Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic)

Donna Murphy takes her curtain call after performing as Ruth in ‘Wonderful Town’ on Broadway (Photo: Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic)

Desiree Armfeldt in A Little Night Music 
A performer who acts her songs with careful consideration is always a welcome asset to a Stephen Sondheim musical. Let’s remember, Donna Murphy is a distinctive interpreter of his music, having originated the role of Fosca in his musical Passion, as well as having played Cora Hoover Hooper in City Center’s concert of Anyone Can Whistle. In both instances, Murphy found the complex humanity and fallibility in her characters. Another Sondheim role that is begging for Murphy’s deft interpretation skills is the actress-courtesan Desiree Armfledt in A Little Night Music. Both bitingly humorous and delicately vulnerable, Desiree sings some of the musical’s finest songs, including the Broadway standard “Send in the Clowns.”

Margo Channing in Applause
Many critics will argue that the 1970 musical Applause – a retelling of the film All About Eve and the short story “The Wisdom of Eve” on which it is based – is a dated property, but the story and the Charles Strouse/Lee Adams score remain vibrant, packing an emotional punch. Donna Murphy would embody central character Margo Channing, a tough-as-nails, aging actress who exhibits a fragile underbelly when a young wannabe begins to usurp her stardom and her friends. Margo offers a delicious range of emotions for Murphy to wrap her talents around, and songs like “But Alive,” “Something Greater” and particularly “Welcome to the Theatre” are the perfect vehicles for the tour-de-force performance style that Murphy has demonstrated in  shows like Wonderful Town and Hello, Dolly!

“The Witch” in Into the Woods 
In all fairness, Murphy already played this character in the 2012 Central Park production of Into the Woods at the Delacorte, but that was a limited run and only five weeks’ worth of audiences got to revel in this actress extraordinaire in the role. The Witch is obsessed with her former youth and beauty, not to mention protecting her adopted daughter from the dangers of the real world. She is layered with so many opportunities for Murphy’s talent to shine, ranging from humor to pathos. From the snappy “Witch’s Rap” that lays out the backstory for Into the Woods, to the emotionally-charged “Stay With Me,” where she pleads with Rapunzel to remain a child for as long as possible, Murphy would excel.

“Auntie Mame” in Mame 
When an actress can tackle the character of Dolly Gallagher Levi with such aplomb and nuance, what is logically her next role? That other loveable, free-spirited, middle-aged lady of the Jerry Herman canon: The title character in Mame. The story of a partying, eccentric woman of the 1920s who inherits her 10-year-old nephew Patrick and raises him against the conservative values of his upbringing, Mame is a musical of humor and heart. People often think of Auntie Mame as brash and bold, but she is much more textured than that, sometimes fragile, and often reflective. Murphy would give this character the depth and gravitas that is required, bringing her special brand of interpretation to such songs as “It’s Today,” “Open a New Window,” “We Need a Little Christmas” and “If He Walked Into My Life.” And while we are dream casting, why not pair her with Bebe Neuwirth as Mame’s acerbic and inebriated best friend, Vera Charles? It’s a dream imagining their rendition of the comedic duet “Bosom Buddies.”

Mark Robinson is the author of the two-volume encyclopedia The World of Musicals, The Disney Song Encyclopedia, and The Encyclopedia of Television Theme Songs. He maintains a theater and entertainment blog at


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