Versatile actor Bill Murray, the star of “Caddyshack” and “Meatballs,” “Lost in Translation” and “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou,” is on the phone from midtown Manhattan, behind the wheel of a small hybrid automobile packed like a clown car.
Venezuelan-American pianist Vanessa Perez is in the back seat next to violinist Mira Wang, who has a suitcase on her lap and cello poking into her armpit. Next to Murray, in the passenger seat, is world-renowned cellist Jan Vogler. They are driving to rehearsal for “New Worlds,” a provocative work that they will perform Friday, March 2, at Mizner Park Amphitheater as part of Festival of the Arts Boca.
Learning his caller is from Florida, Murray mentions that he is passing a giant Times Square billboard for Calvin Klein underwear. He allows his mind to wander back to another time, and another car, one with more elbow room, the one he drove around South Florida while shooting the 1980 classic “Caddyshack.”
“I had a beautiful rent-a-car, a money-green Lincoln,” Murray says, wistfully.
Murray was not part of the original “Caddyshack” cast, but agreed when director Harold Ramis asked him to fly down from New York to shoot a single scene at Davie’s Rolling Hills Country Club (now Grande Oaks), which kept Murray and his Lincoln together for about 10 days. The filmmakers asked Murray to fly down to shoot scenes two more times.
“Somehow, my green-money Lincoln was still there,” he says. “It wasn’t as crowded down there then. You could drive with your feet all the way from Davie to Miami and back without having to put your shirt on or anything. It was a nice time to be down there.
“They called me about two or three months [after the shoot] and said, ‘Whatever happened to that car?’ And I said, ‘I left it under the tree.’ [Laughs] Like that would be a safe place that someone would find it, under the tree,” Murray says. “And when they found it, it was just covered in acorns and dust and debris. I think birds had nested in it. But it was a beautiful car.”
South Florida may not have grown in sophistication, but Murray surely has.
“New Worlds” offers an evening of song, poetry and prose, with Murray’s voice weaving memorable literary passages with classical and contemporary symphonic music arranged by Vogler. It is an eclectic collection: Ravel’s Sonata in G Major for Violin and Piano is combined with James Thurber’s satirical “If Grant Had Been Drinking at Appomattox”; James Fenimore Cooper’s “The Deerslayer” is read over Schubert’s Piano Trio No. 1 In B Flat; a section of Mark Twain’s “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” is set upon Henry Mancini’s drifting “Moon River.”
There are also moments when Murray uses his not unpleasant singing voice, as on Van Morrison’s “When Will I Ever Learn To Live in God.”
The “New Worlds” project, captured on an album of the same name released on Decca Gold in September, began with the friendship that formed several years ago on a transatlantic flight from Germany with Vogler seated between his cello and Murray, an arrangement the actor could not let pass without comment.
In New York, Murray invited Vogler to the annual Poetry Walk Across the Brooklyn Bridge, where Murray was among those who read poems at different spots on the bridge to a gathering of several hundred people. More reading followed at a dinner, where everyone got a bag of poetry to take home, Murray says.
Vogler was responsible for choosing the music and poetry on “New Worlds,” but he believes that Murray had a vision for the project long before it took shape.
“I think he had something in mind in getting me to that poetry walk,” Vogler says. The Berlin-born cellist says he began to see the contours of the mission later at a dinner, where they listened to CDs of pop and classics as Murray whistled and sang along.
“Bill has such a repertoire, and he can sing everything with the correct text. It’s quite fascinating,” Vogler says.
Both men sound surprised at what happened when these layers of great literature and great music found each other.
“We said, ‘Can you do this? Can you possibly put great literature atop great music and vice versa? And it worked. It worked very well. The music meshed perfectly,” Murray says. “It gave a very different dynamic to the material. It gave it a lot more power, where there was so much happening at any moment that it really engaged all your attention to listen.”
“New Worlds,” featuring Bill Murray, Jan Vogler, Mira Wang and Vanessa Perez, will be performed 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 2, at Mizner Park Amphitheater, 90 Plaza Real, in Boca Raton. Tickets start at $75. Visit FestivalOfTheArtsBoca.org.