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A few funny things happened to actor on his way to running Tigard theater company

CRAIG MITCHELLDYER - Dan Murphy as Pseudolus and Deanna Olsen White as Tintinabula are sure to entertain audiences in 'A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.'When Dan Murphy talks to the audience during Broadway Rose’s next show, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” he won’t be doing his usual “curtain talk.”

Instead, Murphy — the founder and general manager of Broadway Rose Theatre — will be speaking in the role of Pseudolus.

Yes, Tigard’s favorite character actor — he has played such memorable roles as Melvin P. Thorpe in “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” Alfred P. Doolittle in “My Fair Lady” and Edna Turnblad in “Hairspray” — will be entertaining audiences again in August.

In “Forum,” which is based on fables by Plautus, an ancient Roman playwright, a slave called Pseudolus tries to win his freedom by helping his master win the girl next door.

“I laughed out loud when I read the script,” Murphy said. “It’s slap-stick vaudeville, and my gift is to make people laugh. Pseudolus talks to the audience and guides them through the show, although the lines are hard to memorize! We want people to come and get away from their normal lives for two hours of belly laughs.”

The story of how Murphy and his wife, Sharon Maroney, left the mean streets of New York to start a theater company in Tigard 25-plus years ago is legendary, but not so well known is how Murphy became an actor.

Born in Larchmont, N.Y., which is located north of the Bronx, into a large Irish-Catholic family with 11 children, “Danny” Murphy’s first venture into the creative arts was taking piano lessons. Murphy and his brother Mark also took Irish step-dancing for several years in grade school, and nine of the siblings took ballroom dancing.

Murphy appeared in musicals in middle and high school, and then again at Emerson College in Boston, which he attended for a year.

“I was thinking of majoring in acting but as a good dancer, I would have been made the dance captain in shows while the non-dancing actors would get the big roles,” said Murphy, who moved to New York City at age 19. “I took over my sister’s apartment on the Upper East Side because she had moved. I got a roommate, and we split the $250 monthly rent.”

Of course, actors traditionally hold a lot of odd jobs to pay the rent, and Murphy worked as a page at the CBS Broadcast Center for five years, encountering many well-known newscasters including Diane Sawyer.

“I was done with my work day by 9 a.m. so I could pursue auditions and dance classes,” said Murphy, who also worked as a waiter (and still can balance a tray loaded with drinks). “I left CBS because I made more money as a waiter.”

Thanks to Murphy’s older sister working in administration at CBS, he got leads on jobs, working on renowned soap operas such as “Love of Life” and “Search for Tomorrow” while also teaching dancing. In fact, seven of Murphy’s siblings worked in soaps.

In 1984, Murphy ventured into summer stock in Shamokin, Penn., where he met Sharon Maroney, who hailed from Wisconsin.

“Prather Co. Productions had several companies, and we were the first couple to meet and marry in the company,” Murphy said. “I had my (Screen Actors Guild) and (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) cards coming out of high school and did a lot of jobs out of town. We were living in Queens when Sharon got pregnant.”

From there, Murphy’s career took off, including roles in “Working Girl” with Sigourney Weaver, “Big” with Tom Hanks and “Awakenings” with Robin Williams. He also appeared in the wedding scene in “Stella Dallas,” played a waiter in “Crossing Delancey,” and did two episodes of “Law and Order” and some 60 to 70 commercials.

“I registered my car so it could be rented out, and I brought our daughter Megan along to be in a couple shows while Sharon was a teacher our last couple years in New York. I pieced together a living working in the theater, doing a lunch shift and working half the night. This was the time before cellphones, so you’d run out to a phone booth and call your answering machine during a break to see if you got a job.”

With that craziness in the background, Murphy said that basically, “we created Broadway Rose to stay together as a family.”

After moving to Tigard and starting the theater company, Murphy started getting outside acting and choreography jobs with other metro-area theater companies, but in the early days, he also returned to waiting tables.

“That was a handy skill,” he said. “And because we only did shows in the summer, I could work for other theater companies in the winter.”

Then Murphy said he hit a “certain age” where he didn’t perform on stage for 10 years because he was too old for the young-man roles and too young for the seasoned character roles.

“When you’re in your 30s and 40s, there aren’t as many roles,” he said. “But I was never the romantic lead — I always played the funny sidekick. And it’s nice to be at an age where I can still act and hoof it.”

He remembers when Broadway Rose staged “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” he initially was going to play the sheriff opposite Miss Mona — proprietor of the Chicken Ranch in Texas in the late 1970s — which was being played by Sharon.

“We thought that no one would buy it, so I took the comedy role of Melvin P. Thorpe,” he laughed.

Murphy said he wanted to play the role of Edna Turnblad in “Hairspray,” which has traditionally been played by a man, so he became a “method actor.”

“I would wear a dress and high heels at rehearsals and around the office and at home to get used to walking naturally in a dress and heels,” he said. “I thought it was one of the funniest parts I’ve done.”

Murphy’s favorite all-time role was Man in Chair in “The Drowsy Chaperone,” but he is excited about doing “Forum.”

“It’s always been on my short list to do, and I’m surrounded by really talented people in this show,” Murphy said.

When he is not on stage in productions at the New Stage (where the Broadway Rose offices are located), “one of the biggest pleasures in my life is to leave my office during shows and stand at the back of the auditorium,” Murphy said. “I know when the big laughs are coming — I just love it.”

As for performing, “I don’t have to be the lead,” Murphy said. “And I almost enjoy the rehearsal process more. It is a discovery process where the show comes together.”

Murphy said he and Maroney have each other’s back when they cast themselves in shows, adding, “Hopefully, we haven’t miscast each other. But we don’t take ourselves too seriously.”

While Murphy laments that 80 percent of his job is accounting, “it’s nice that I don’t wait tables anymore, although I sometimes clean toilets and vacuum the lobby. (But) I like to sing and dance — that’s why we started Broadway Rose, not for me to be an accountant.”

He also gets reinvigorated by his work outside Broadway Rose — he’s directed 14 shows at Tualatin High School — and also is a fixture in the community with a multitude of volunteer jobs that earned him the title of Tigard First Citizen for 2016.

“It’s my way of giving back, and I selfishly work in schools to expose kids to theater,” Murphy said. “Someone did it for me. I had mentors and role models in high school, and now that I’m running a theater program, I can give back. I can do it because I have a crackerjack staff.”

Through it all, Murphy just flat loves what he does.

“Running Broadway Rose is work, but at the end of the day, it’s a great job,” he said. And “it’s nice to have all my ducks in a row so I can be in shows.”

As for Broadway Rose’s audiences, they mean the world to both Murphy and Maroney.

“We really, truly mean it,” he added. “Every night we host a party for our friends.”

(Although Broadway Rose has not announced its 2017 line-up yet, Murphy did reveal that next summer he and Maroney, who will celebrate their 29th wedding anniversary in August, will star opposite each other in one of the shows.)

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