Vanessa Perez, Jan Vogler, Bill Murray, Mira Wang. Pic Ben Apfelbaum

Bill Murray opened his Sydney Opera House show by reading from the last interview Ernest Hemingway granted. “Hemingway: I used to play cello. My mother kept me out of school a whole year to study music and counterpoint. She thought I had ability, but I was absolutely without talent.”

Murray could well be warning us that he is without talent as a singer but that he believes in himself, or perhaps his mother believed in him, and he enjoys singing, and his acting skills allow him to convey the story and emotions of the songs he chooses. He is accompanied by an exquisite world class, classical trio which would be a joy to listen to on their own but they are absolutely enthralling as they blend with Murray’s performance.  The trio is made up of cellist Jan Vogler, violinist Mira Wang and pianist Vanessa Perez. They have performed as soloists for world renowned orchestras, including The New York Philharmonic, Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Bill Murray recites, reads, sings, and dances his way through a variety of works. After opening with George Plimpton’s interview from The Paris Review with Ernest Hemingway he read an excerpt from Walt Whitman’s Song of the Open Road: “Let us go! whoever you are come travel with me! Travelling with me you find what never tires.” This was followed by nature lover James Fenimore Cooper’s The Deerslayer, fittingly coupled with the music of another nature lover, Franz Schubert.Murray then promised that the worst of the evening was over. He mockingly derided the sounds coming from Jan Vogler and his wooden box. He thought Mira Wang’s instrument sounded like a strangling cat and hadn’t worked out what Vanessa Perez’s game was. The audience cheered but he said that although the worst was over there was more bad stuff to come.

His acting skills again came to the fore with readings from Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. He became the four characters in the excerpt he read and superbly conveyed the personalities and accents.  He similarly embodied Huck and Jim from an especially poignant piece from Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, which echoed the issues of immigration, racism and “fear of the other” prevalent today.

Sydney audiences are reluctant to react during a performance and tend to save the appreciation until the end. Murray read the audience well and subtly coaxed them into several singalongs. The crowd enthusiastically joined in George & Ira Gershwin’s It Ain’t Necessarily So, Smokey Robinson’s My Girl and the Scottish traditional The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond.

The combination of classical such as Saint-Saëns, Ravel and Bach and popular, Leonard Bernstein, Tom Waits, Van Morrison and Henry Mancini makes for an evening of delightful variety. The combination of the exquisite skills of the musicians with Bill Murray’s strong and expressive voice is deeply moving. Bill’s comical rendition of I Feel Pretty is one of many highlights.

When Neil Gaiman toured a few years ago and read on stage with a string quartet supporting I thought it was a brilliant collaboration. Bill Murray, Jan Vogler & Friends works equally as well and is a diverse and wonderfully enjoyable evening. The musicians seemed to really enjoy themselves and the fabulous Sydney Opera House. They happily performed an extensive encore.

Bill Murray, Jan Vogler & Friends: New Worlds played at Sydney Opera House 9th November 2018.