Peter Pan and actress Karen Murphy come home to Boston
Just three years since premiering at Cambridge’s American Repertory Theater, Finding Neverland returns to Boston where the mega-popular national tour will play through August 20 at the Boston Opera House.
The show was a sold-out smash in Cambridge, and although the Broadway run was short-lived and knocked by critics (backstage politics played a huge part in the latter), the tour has been rapturously received on the road and is doing boffo business at the box office.
But the occasion marks more than just Neverland returning to the place where it all started—it heralds the return of Broadway veteran Karen Murphy to her old stomping grounds. (Murphy plays Mrs. du Maurier, Syliva’s stern mother who disapproves of the time that her daughter and grandchildren are spending with J.M. Barrie.)
Murphy hasn’t played Boston for 25 years and is excited to finally come back. After attending the Boston Conservatory for two years, Murphy received her degree from UMass Boston. She went almost immediately into a string of shows at the Charles Playhouse, long-time home of Sheer Madness. “Believe it or not,” she joked, “there was life before Sheer Madness.”
After performing in things like Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, The Fantasticks, and You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, Murphy got her equity card doing a musical revue called Cole. From there, she joined the original cast of the Boston run of Forbidden Broadway that ran for years at the Terrace Room at the Park Plaza.
“It was a wall-to-wall sellout for the first year,” she said. “Boston had a tremendous history as being the out of town tryout city, a very knowledgeable theatrical audience, and it ran there for almost six years. It was like school for me. I learned so much about so much.”
Forbidden Broadway would also prove to be a kind of crystal ball for Murphy: one of the characters that she impersonated was Angela Lansbury, who she would ultimately go on to understudy in the last Broadway revival of A Little Night Music.
I couldn’t help but wonder if Murphy shared this with Lansbury. “Oh, yes, of course!” Murphy said. “She’s an enormous fan of Forbidden Broadway so she knew all about it.”
Murphy had been a fixture of the Boston theatre scene for years before the trajectory of her career changed suddenly and forever.
“I got the phone call that every actor dreams of getting,” she said. “My friend said, ‘Do you want my rent stabilized apartment in New York City?’ I said, ‘Okay, there’s my invitation.’ So I reluctantly left Boston and moved to New York where things have gone very well, indeed.”
She made her Broadway debut in Maury Yeston’s Titanic in the late 1990s, and in impressive succession came 42nd Street, All Shook Up, 9 to 5, and A Little Night Music. In 2009, Murphy was nominated for a Drama Desk Award for My Vaudeville Man!
Much of Neverland has changed since its premiere at A.R.T. three years ago: it feels lighter, quicker, and glosses over some of the darker moments that gave the show its bittersweet core. But with things shifted around, it is undeniably geared more towards children than it was before.
“This is the biggest compliment I can pay the show,” said Murphy. “We are so family friendly. You can bring four generations to our show and everyone will love it and have a good time. Who doesn’t know and love Peter Pan? There’s a reason why we’re the number one selling show on the road behind Phantom, Hamilton, and The Book of Mormon; we’re doing everything right.”
FINDING NEVERLAND. THROUGH 8.20 AT THE BOSTON OPERA HOUSE, 539 WASHINGTON ST., BOSTON. BOSTON.BROADWAY.COM