The legendary news broadcaster’s life and career is dramatized in this ambitious and superbly performed solo play with excellent technical elements.
Wearing a white shirt, patterned tie, black pinstripe suit pants, red suspenders and with his hair slicked down and styled, Mr. Menino visually bears a strong resemblance to the famed broadcaster. Vocally, Menino gives a commanding approximation of Murrow’s distinctive emphatically clipped delivery. Most crucial to his intense characterization is his animated presence that conveys the emotional highs and lows of the revered American cultural figure.
Director Jeremy Williams fills this two-hour presentation (including an intermission) with vivid and indelible historical images: Murrow in front of a large vintage microphone, him standing on a platform describing The London Blitz and sitting reflectively in a wingchair smoking his trademark cigarette while illuminated by a period lamp. Mr. Williams seamlessly integrates the performance’s grandeur with the outstanding technical elements into a compelling production.
Kate Jaworski’s lighting design is an amazing display of predominantly varying shadows and dimness that captures the look of the past and greatly enhances Menino’s portrayal. The CBS news studio set with its light gray floor, darker gray walls and medium gray long rectangular table are features of W.T. McRae’s sensational set design that suggests an expressionistic limbo. The lighting and set together conjure up a mesmerizing film noir landscape.
Numerous voice-overs and effects are very well orchestrated by Liz Stanton’s sound design. The unobtrusive and illustrative video design by Pierre Depaz includes contemporary television news clips that demonstrate Murrow’s monumental influence, Nazi concentration camp footage and 1950’s imagery that are periodically projected onto three rectangular panels onstage and onto the side of the table. Technical director Juan Merchan perfectly executes all of these multi-media aspects.
Using primary research and interviewing prominent figures that knew Murrow and obtaining the sanction and guidance of Murrow’s widow Janet, playwright Joseph Vitale has crafted a comprehensive, affectionate and authentic portrait.
Mr. Vitale includes all of the biographical details and notable career high points. The glory days of London during W.W. II, the take down of Sen. Joseph McCarthy during the Communist witch hunts, and the ensuing fallout and the long and complex relationship with CBS chieftain William S. Paley are all expressively chronicled. Vitale also movingly conveys the inner consciousness of Murrow as the material is spoken to the audience.
Born in South Carolina in 1908, Edward R. Murrow later moved with his Quaker family to rural Washington where he graduated from Washington State University with a degree in speech. After a attempting a career as an actor, in 1935 he obtained an executive job at CBS.
He took a position in Europe and began his broadcasting career covering the tumultuous events of the 1930’s in Austria. While in London he became celebrated for his coverage of the German bombings there that began with his solemn introduction “This is London…” It was also at this time that his enduring concluding catchphrase “Good night, and good luck” was first heard.
Following the war, he continued as a news broadcaster on radio and successfully switched over to television where he became famous with his documentary program See It Now and the celebrity interview program Person to Person.
He instigated and hosted a critical episode of See It Now that was highly critical of Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s dubious anti-Communist tactics. Despite the program’s truthfulness and impact, his career at CBS suffered and he left the company in 1961 to become the head of the United States Information Agency during the Kennedy administration. Known for his on-air heavy cigarette smoking, he died of lung cancer in 1965, at the age of 57.
Many members of the American public and the journalism community continue to revere Edward R. Murrow as a paragon of integrity in the field of news reporting. Due to the skillful writing of Joseph Vitale, Joseph Menino’s tremendous performance and its strong physical production, Murrow affirms his noble legacy.
Murrow (through May 22, 2016)
Phoenix Theatre Ensemble at The Wild Project
195 East Third Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit http://www.phoenixtheatreensemble.org
Running time: two hours including one intermission
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