Ask “Passion” star Donna Murphy to name the best thing that’s happened to her since she won the Tony for Best Actress in a Musical, and she doesn’t hesitate.
“Bill Blass, who lent me a great gown for the evening, gave it to me,” says Murphy.
In addition to the layered, off-the-shoulder, chiffon dress, there were a few other things. Like calls to her agents, the prospect of new projects and meetings with American Playhouse and movie industry heavyweights Mike Nichols, Warren Beatty and Annette Bening, all of them dying to talk to Murphy about “Passion.”
The musical is Steven Sondheim’s interpretation of “Fosca,” a 19th-century Italian novel about the power of the love of an ugly woman (Murphy) for a handsome young captain (Jere Shea).
“And it hasn’t just been handshake meetings,” emphasizes Murphy. “We’ve had long, interesting talks about the play.”
But the most rewarding aspect of winning the Tony was the “I-told-you-so” satisfaction Murphy felt toward theater gossips who had predicted “Passion” would bomb long before its opening.
“It made it all sweeter,” she admits. “It had been a long journey, and I wasn’t laying any kind of bets on what kinds of reviews we’d get from the critics.”
But the day after “Passion” opened, the musical was nominated for 11 Drama Desk awards (it won six) and a week later, for 10 Tonys (it won four).
Playing a woman who is constantly described throughout the play as “ugly” and “wretched” also gave Murphy — who came to rehearsals dressed in somber, baggy clothing to feel in character — a different perspective on beauty.
“It was very interesting,” she says. “The way men [in the cast and crew] dealt with me, and the way they dealt with Marin [Mazzie, who plays Murphy’s beautiful rival] were completely different. Maybe it came from me, but there was no flirtation with the men. There was a kind of dismissal of me. Not as a person — but the feminine part of me.”
That all changed the day Murphy showed up in leggings, boots and a blazer for a photo shoot.
“I have long legs, and I could see them all giving me sidelong glances. They didn’t recognize me. They thought I was the photographer. All you have to do is wash your hair and put some lipstick on.”