Mary Murfitt: Kansas Cowgirl to Off-Broadway Star

Mary Murfitt 150Cowgirls conceiver, composer and lyricist Mary Murfitt grew up in Kansas playing the violin since almost before she could walk. It wasn’t until seeing the film Funny Girl with Barbra Streisand that she knew she wanted to be an actor. Her music teacher mother had her practice and practice the violin only to see her give up a scholarship to Julliard School of Music to attend Marymount College majoring in drama and minoring in music. Mary’s onstage performance career started by playing in New York pit orchestras and it wasn’t until she ran into a former roommate that she started writing her first  show.

Mary co-wrote and starred in Oil City Symphony which opened on Off-Broadway in 1987. Oil City Symphony received the Outer Critic’s Circle Award for Best Off-Broadway Musical, and Mary received a Theatre World Award and a Drama Desk Award for her work as an actor in the show. Ever since, Mary has enjoyed great success in Off-Broadway theatre.

She told The Cincinnati Enquirer, “‘I got a lot of attention, but I couldn’t get arrested as an actress’ because people kept expecting her to be what she appeared to be on stage. She decided to keep writing for herself, and off-Broadway seemed like a fun and easy way to make a living.”

Cowgirls’ beginning was in the early 90’s when Mary was compiling many of the funny country songs she was writing for a one-woman show. After collaborating on Oil City she realized she didn’t want to be alone on stage.

cowgirls-songbook-coverMary recalls, “I started thinking what was I going to do with these country songs. They were funny but it needs to be something more. I need a hook. At the time I was living with a girlfriend and we were talking about all this and she said, ‘What is so interesting is that you like this country music and you are from Kansas. But you never liked it when you were in Kansas and you were a classical musician. Isn’t that strange?’ And I thought, wait a minute, there’s the hook!”  She then developed the idea of classically trained musicians accidentally being booked at a struggling country western bar needing to learn how to play country music in 24 hours. Along with writing the music and lyrics, Mary originated the role of Mary Lou opening in 1996 at the Minetta Lane Theatre.

Cowgirls was nominated for Best Off-Broadway musical by the Outer Critics’ Circle and Mary was honored for her work by the New York Drama League. Since then, Mary has written Petticoat Rules (book & lyrics), Eight is Enough (music & lyrics) and Looking for Home (book, music, & lyrics).