The Lennon Musical:
Understudy Darin Murphy's Thoughts
On the Broadway Production
By Bill Vordenbaum

Right: Darin Murphy photo by Todd V. Wolfson

One of the most vividly tragic memories I have as a young teenager, was learning of the death of John Lennon. I, along with millions in the U.S., was watching Monday Night Football on ABC television when I first heard the news. To hear the somber tone of Howard Cosell's usually abrasive and always distinctive voice make this announcement was quite sobering. I quickly turned on the radio, hoping to hear that it was all some sort of a cruel hoax. Instead, I heard nothing but classic Beatles songs mixed with John's own solo material on virtually every station I listened to then. The shock of the moment was turning into an unsettling reality: John Lennon was dead. That was almost twenty-five years ago.

Today, Director Don Scardino has taken on the unenviable task of bringing John's life and music to a Broadway musical production. Don's memories of John go back to the Beatles first appearing in the United States in February of 1964. As a teenager, he saw John, Paul, George and Ringo step off the plane at John F. Kennedy airport in New York City. Soon, the Beatles would perform on the Ed Sullivan Show, then at Shea Stadium. Cultural changes in the U.S. were occurring rapidly. The assassination of President Kennedy less than three months prior to the arrival of the Fab Four, had wrenched our nation's conscious out of the comfortable post-World War II era, and thrust us into the tumultuous struggles of the 1960's. The Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement divided our nation and arguably challenged our culture like no other time in modern history. John Lennon, in particular, rode those changing currents in our nation's history like no other musician, poet, author, philosopher or even politician could.

When I met Darin Murphy (Lennon Musical Swing or Stand-By) at Flipnotics Coffeespace in Austin a couple of months ago, it became obvious to me that he was intensely focused on the life and music of John Lennon. He claimed that he had no conscious first memory of John's music; instead, he asserted that he "was conceived when the Beatles first hit #1, and it snowballed from there!"

E.C.: When did you first become interested in acting?

Darin: It was something that my father did. I grew up with my father in the theatre. I remember the first play I ever saw him perform in and that was Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar" when I was four years old. So, my sisters and I became interested, and I was hooked ever since.

Darin continued to act as a theatre student through high school, then did some acting in college. He claims he didn't have the discipline, drive, or seriousness that other actors had. He felt he could not make a living as an actor.

E.C.: How did you get involved with this musical?

Darin: I've been playing music for the past twenty years. Ten of those were spent in Austin. I met Jeff Osborne, who is an agent here in town. He booked me on some opening dates for Marshall Crenshaw. We (Jeff and I) ran into each other on the street about a year ago. He said he just got an email from this guy in New York who was doing a musical about the life of John Lennon. He wanted Marshall to audition for the part because Crenshaw had done "Beatlemania" on Broadway back in the '70's and '80's. I had been into the Beatles, and especially John, for so long. So, I asked him if there was an open call. Could I get an audition? Jeff said he didn't know, but he would find out. Jeff and I lobbied together, and got in touch with the show's creator, Don Scardino. Don eventually downloaded some homemade Beatles songs I had made about ten years ago, and he flipped over them! He called back and wanted me to come up for an audition.

E.C.: So, it was your experience in the music industry that helped you get the part! Not so much your previous acting experience?

Darin: Yes, yes. So, when I met with Don, in September of last year -- we clicked immediately. We were both huge Beatles fans, so we both sort of spoke the same language. It was sort of like I had met someone I had known my entire life.

E.C.: What about John's new songs added to the show ("India, India," "Cookin' in the Kitchen of Love," and "I Don't Want to Lose You")? How did they fit in to the script?

Darin: "Cooking in the Kitchen" didn't make the cut. Ringo had actually recorded this one before. The other two, "India, India" and "I Don't Want to Lose You" were added to the show.

At this point during the interview, I began asking Darin about specific events in John's life and how they were portrayed in the musical. From the Battle of Britain, when John Winston Lennon was born, to his mother Julia introducing him to music, to his Aunt Mimi raising him, and eventually his first meeting with Paul McCartney (and the Quarrymen). I also asked about the first time he met with Yoko Ono at an art gallery in 1966, their marriage, and his self-destructive time away from her in the early '70's. Then, John and Yoko reuniting at an Elton John concert at Madison Square Garden in 1974. A year later, Sean Lennon is born. John struggles with the U.S. government to stay in New York. Then, ultimately, John Lennon's death in 1980.

I noticed that references to John's first wife Cynthia, and their son Julian are downplayed. Also, John's short-term mistress May Pang is omitted from the play, although it is rumored that she attended one of the San Francisco performances. Clearly, the musical is more of a reflection of the love that John Ono Lennon and Yoko Ono shared. Darin did say there would be some revisions in the script, and that some of these things could be added before the show officially opens in New York. He obviously didn't want to give away any of the specific details of the show. He did, however, say that any revisions to be made would help to clarify the show without "dumbing it down."

E.C.: Is there anything in particular in the show that stands out? Do you have a favorite scene?

Darin: As a Beatles/John Lennon aficionado, I do have issues with some things in the show. However, I feel I have to let most of those go (suspend disbelief). One of my favorite parts of the show is the treatment of the political activists (mainly in New York state) in the '70's. Specifically, the song about the Attica State Prison rebellion, and especially the scene depicting John and Yoko's political activism on the David Frost and Michael Douglas shows. It is done very well, I think.

Darin then discussed how the individual cast members contribute to the show.

E.C.: Without giving too much away, how does the musical end?

Darin: Yoko gets a final song at the end of the show. That is an amazing moment. The main thing that happens at the beginning and the end of the musical is you get very profound messages. Because in the end, that is really what John was about. He eventually found a way to do this outside the global domination of the Beatles and his classroom antics. As a wise father and a family man later in life, he could state things more plainly and clearly as to the whole state of the world.

Prior to the release of this article online, Darin added the following: Since the San Francisco run, the script has been revised numerous times. It now contains more material about John and Cynthia's relationship. Brian Epstein (first manager of the Beatles) is now a character in the show whereas he was only mentioned in the old version. There is more attention given to John's relationship with Paul (McCartney), and the Beatles' breakup is more thoroughly explained. Also, the first act plays more chronologically now, so there's a better understanding of his life events and when they occured, and it feels more like the story of John than that of John and Yoko.

Regarding Darin's covering for one of the original castmembers, he added: Castmember Chad Kimball was sidelined due to a vocal chord injury and I've stood in for him for twelve performances (as of Friday, July 29th.).

E.C. note: Despite mixed reviews from critics after the San Francisco run, it appears that Director Don Scardino has allowed the play to evolve and change to focus more on the life and experiences of John Lennon himself. In fact, the show may continue to evolve. I have neither seen the show, nor have I read the script. However, the energy expressed by Darin in both our conversation in mid-May, and his subsequent emails have shown a continued enthusiasm about the play. The Lennon Musical is currently showing in an "open-ended" run at the Broadhurst Theatre in New York City.