Bill Murray enters new territory with 'New Worlds'

Actor takes to Kleinhans for a night of music, literature and emotion


It's never “Groundhog Day” for actor and comedian Bill Murray.

When the legendary 67-year-old actor wakes up every day, he’s always doing something different.

He’s starred in films of different genres and worked with many types of creatives, so it was no surprise when he explored new territory at Kleinhans Music Hall Wednesday.

Murray read and performed classic pieces of American literature in “New Worlds,” a literary and musical show featuring the talents of cellist Jan Vogler, violinist Mira Wang and pianist Vanessa Perez.

The mostly middle-aged, packed audience had conflicting emotions throughout the night. From the moment Murray and the musicians busted through the stage’s double doors up until the show's fourth encore piece, New Worlds undoubtedly brought a memorable display.

Paired with music, Murray's lovable and familiar voice made audience members cry, laugh and stare in amazement for the two-plus hour event. Murray read and sang works of Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway and other classic penmen as musicians played everything from Bach to selections from “West Side Story.”

The show mainly communicated “America’s core values,” but Murray did so in the matter of one brief sentence.

During Leonard Bernstein’s “America” from West Side Story, Murray made an honest, simplistic and well-received statement.

After singing about everything wonderful that’s available in America, Murray made sure to include that “Puerto Rico’s in America.” This triggered the most enthusiastic applause of the night and showcased what he believes to be important – togetherness.

Suzanne Fatta, a Buffalo resident, considers herself a big fan of Murray and knew just what to expect from the performance. She walked away feeling a mix of emotions.

“I knew [Bill Murray] had kind of moved in this direction,” Fatta said. “I laughed for real, I cried for real. It did everything that entertainment is supposed to do. It made me think and I had a super awesome time.”

Murray began the night by reading Ernest Hemingway's "Do You Even Play a Musical Instrument?" He sat on a stool and addressed all the questions the crowd asked themselves before attending a Bill Murray performance of this nature.

In the words of Hemingway, Murray was "absolutely without talent" in terms of cello playing but he and his friends still managed to make the night as musical as it was thought-provoking.

Murray's reading transformed into an ironic solo cello performance by Vogler. The musician gracefully performed Bach's "Prelude to Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major" as Murray stared off into the adoring crowd.

The show varied in terms of what stories Murray told and what pieces the musicians played. Each piece of art, however, still had an effect on the audience.

Amy Glidden, a member of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, appreciated each of the night’s performers.

“I was interested to hear the musicians he was traveling with and I thought they were absolutely wonderful,” Glidden said. “I was really impressed with the way that he coordinated the music and the speaking together.”

When Murray read aloud lines of Hemingway’s “With Pascin at the Dome” from the writer’s memoir “A Movable Feast” the crowd erupted with laughter.

The piece tells a story of Hemingway meeting painter Jules Pascin in a café with two female models. Lines like “everyone is the same size in bed” kept the crowd excitedly on their toes as the prominent actor shared the piece.

In the Hemingway chapter, the writer explains that his painter friend hanged himself sometime afterward. Thus, it fit for the instrumentalists to follow the reading with Astor Piazzolla’s “La Muerte del Angel.” This morbid and slow-moving selection put emphasis on the sonic variety of New Worlds.

Saying the night incorporated sonic variety is an understatement, though.

Immediately following “La Muerte del Angel,” Murray surprised the audience with George Gershwin’s “It Ain’t Necessarily So” from “Porgy and Bess.” This comical take on the Bible had the crowd swaying, singing along and hanging on to every moment of Murray’s exuberance.

Stephen Foster’s “Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair” didn’t have the audience moving like “Necessarily So,” but it had them moved.

For the first few lines of each verse, Murray spoke the lyrics rather than singing them as Wang and Perez played through the love song’s melody. Murray sang the song delicately in a voice familiar to movie fans. A lot of attendees had to wipe their eyes after the lullaby-like performance.

The familiarity of Murray’s name drew most of the crowd in but his metamorphosis through the night made them stay. As the show progressed, Murray became seemingly more comfortable with the crowd – going from a calm instructor to an enthusiastic showman in a matter of hours.

Sergio Martinez, a Buffalo resident, came out mainly due to Murray’s “legend” status. He exited Kleinhans happily surprised with Murray’s talent.

“His singing surprised me the most actually, I didn’t know what to expect but it was pretty impressive,” Martinez said.

Murray appeared comfortable with the packed crowd, returning to the stage twice for four songs worth of encores.

For the grand finale, the actor ran around the venue handing out roses to fans. He gave one to the pianist’s page turner, who surprisingly received the most applause of the night.

Bill Murray will always be a legend in cinema but whatever new direction he plans on traveling, his legendary status will always follow him.

Brenton J. Blanchet is the assistant arts editor and can be reached at