After his freshman year, when he had to audition in front of the Theater Arts Department faculty in what’s called a jury, Brian Patrick Murphy (BA 01) was told that he didn’t have the talent to continue along the path to obtain a Bachelor of Fine Arts. Many students might have hung it up in the face of such a response, but Murphy used it to fuel his ambition. Today, Murphy is a member of the ensemble cast of the touring Broadway production of “Legally Blonde,” a working actor.
“That was the turning point in my whole career,” said Murphy from a tour stop in Cleveland. “I remember thinking to myself: All right, I’m going to show them.”
Murphy came to Ole Miss from Marion, Ill., a small town that he points out may sound like it’s far away, but is just a short four-hour drive from Oxford. His plan was to major in broadcast journalism. He joined a fraternity and embarked on what was going to be the best four of five years of his life. But a decision to minor in theater altered his course, even though he says the faculty didn’t take him seriously at first.
“I think they stereotyped me as a frat boy who wasn’t too serious about it and didn’t have a whole lot of experience,” said Murphy. “But how could I have any experience? I was just starting. Yeah, I was rusty. I hadn’t been dancing or singing. I was an athlete. I’d been singing, but just in church and in high school choir. I didn’t have any formal training.”
In time, Murphy proved himself and by his senior year was getting the plum roles in department productions. He began life as a working actor immediately out of college. He took at job at the Cumberland County Playhouse in Crossville, Tennessee in a musical called “Anything Goes.” He later embarked on an international tour as a cast member of “The Who’s Tommy” that took him to Japan and all over Europe.
Working in New York City is the dream of most every actor, but Murphy wasn’t ready yet.
“Right after Ole Miss I didn’t really feel confident enough to move to New York,” he said. “ I just felt like there was other stuff I needed to do first. So I did. I traveled a lot first.”
But six years ago, he made the move and started getting jobs. Then came the “Legally Blonde” job, a role Murphy says is a big break, in no small part because it keeps him employed. Murphy has an open-ended contract, which means he can stay on board as long as he likes, and the show is already booked for more than two years.
As an ensemble player, Murphy plays many roles in the production, meaning he has multiple costume changes throughout the show. In fact, he has the most. Fifteen times per night, Murphy’s personal dresser helps him in and out of different costumes in record time. The backstage area is just as choreographed as the stage, says Murphy. But despite the frenetic nature of putting on a show, Murphy says he still manages to keep up with Rebel sports, even during the show. He recalls how he came off the stage the night Ole Miss beat Florida in football this past season, and had more than 30 text messages alerting him of the news. After a costume change, he resumed the stage, beaming. When in New York, Murphy is the social chairman for the New York alumni group, and that night a group of Ole Miss alums called him from their watching party to engage in a rousing long-distance “hotty toddy.”
Though the road keeps him away from the Ole Miss campus, he’s looking forward to a weeklong run of “Legally Blonde” in Memphis in March, during which Murphy plans to visit with current Ole Miss theater arts students. The show runs from March 3-8 at the Orpheum Theatre.
Murphy credits the unique atmosphere of Ole Miss as providing a pivotal role in his now budding career.