And now for one of those lighter notes...
As a something of a Theater Queen (mostly amateur - I know the shows, and most big names, but I'm no Sondheim devotee, or some weird Off Off Broadway type), I do keep up on the comings and goings of popular theater gossip. So in addition to the recent feud between Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel during Wicked, there was the similarly timed drama of Donna Murphy missing performances at Wonderful Town, a revival of a fifties era musical that had helped establish Rosalind Russell as an extremely versatile leading lady of stage and screen.
Wicked rolls on, but Wonderful Town closed after Brooke Shields(!) replaced Murphy. But Murphy is now back on Broadway, and today's New York Times featured her mea culpa for the lost performances: seems she'd been struggling with a hemorrhaged vocal cord, and was seesawing back and forth between feeling vocally up to it, and being advised by doctors to skip at various times.
Murphy's illness was highly frustrating to theater devotees, especially those who had christened her the biggest thing in like ever after her performance in Sondheim's rather dismal Passion. Murphy is the real thing - a solid actress and a powerful singer with great stage presence. I had the lucky break of actually seeing her in Wonderful Town (I think it was one of the birthday things Mom and I did), and she was marvelous. But after seeing her, I could rather understand her missing shows. Rail thin and glowing Murphy was sensational in a role that is a big starring part, carrying an otherwise slender story on sheer personality. Such a role was tailor made for Russell's strengths, mainly as a comedienne. Murphy's got those skills, but the role didn't showcase her voice as well as it might have (the songs are soap bubbles - I can only recall "Ohio"), and the personality effort looked draining, with conga numbers and elaborate fantasy sequences.
So I'm torn - I'm not unsympathetic to Murphy's story, and it's telling, as the writer notes, that the people who hired her for Wonderful Town are either working with her now (in The Kurt Weill bio musical LoveMusik) or looking to work with her in the near future (in another revival of Sondheim's also dismal Follies). But professional is professional and missed shows are not something to be proud of. Over time, Murphy may well erase much of the bad will, but I suspect some of the "diva" aspect that came out during Wonderful Town are not isolated or not part of a full picture. Still, leading ladies are entitled to their diva qualities when they deliver the goods. Here's hoping Murphy continues to deliver... the alternative, after all, is worse.