At the premiere of Bill Murray’s sensational holiday special, “A Very Murray Christmas” last night at the Paris Theater, no one had a better time than the star.
Murray happened to sit across the aisle from me during the screening, and I could hear him laugh, clap and sing along to the onscreen performances by Chris Rock, Maya Rudolph, Jenny Lewis, David Johansen, Rashida Jones, the band Phoenix (fronted by director Sofia Coppola’s husband Thomas Mars), Miley Cyrus, Jason Schwartzman and Paul Shaffer.
Before the one-hour special screened, Ted Sarandos, who Murray introduced as “Mr. Netflix,” noted that “A Very Murray Christmas” was “a holiday morsel that brings together Bill Murray and Sofia Coppola for the first time since ‘Lost in Translation.’”
Coppola wanted to get her thanks in early “because I don’t want to follow Bill Murray in the speechmaking.” She gave special thanks to her brother and executive producer, Roman Coppola; Netflix “for not asking too many questions”; and “my dad [legendary director Francis Ford Coppola], who is here, and taught us to love a musical number.”
Next Murray took the podium and said he wanted to thank the “one person who really makes it possible for me — [musical director] Paul Shaffer.” He added, “I want to say something serious, but I don’t have a writer with me to write it, so let me say this … that Christmas, as Chris Rock said, is the economic celebration of Jesus’ birth, but there’s something else that happens. It comes in the stars, it comes in the planets, it comes in this time of the year… In the making of this, we were all touched by that, even though we made it in March.”
He said all the performers “gave so much more than anyone asked them to give … Maya Rudolph, wait till you see what Maya Rudolph does in the show. It’s just gonna smack you in the head!”
He ended with, “If you were ever going to have a Christmas show that you were going to watch with another person, and you were going to turn and you were going to kiss them and they were going to kiss you back, this may be that show.”
“A Very Murray Christmas” is vintage Bill Murray. The show-within-a show structure imagines Murray at the Carlyle hotel where he’s about to host a Christmas special when a blizzard hits and the bridges, airports and roads shut down Manhattan. He frets because the audience can’t get there. But like superheroes, his celebrity chums turn up to commiserate and perform musical numbers. Dressed in a tuxedo and slightly boozy, he tosses off sardonic comments and sings Christmas tunes accompanied by Shaffer in scenes evocative of glamorous 1940’s movies or Dean Martin specials.
Some of the performances of his celebrity guests are joyfully beautiful. Dressed in a short, sexy red dress, Miley Cyrus sings a rendition of “Silent Night” that’s simply gorgeous. (Later, someone told me she learned the words the night before the shoot and nailed it in one take.)
Maya Rudolph is the show’s highlight with a powerhouse gospel performance of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).” (Rudolph’s mother is the late Minnie Ripperton, a superlative singer-songwriter who had a five-octave range.)
A game George Clooney cracked the audience up with his de-wop moment; he pops up from behind a snow covered tree to sing the chorus, “Santa needs some loving.”
In his scene with Chris Rock, Murray coaxes the reluctant comic into singing a Christmas song. They’re both off key. Rock is improvising and rolling his eyes. He can’t wait to make his escape. Murray laughed particularly hard watching that scene.
After the screening, the celebration moved to Bemelmans Bar at the Carlyle hotel, where the special was filmed. All three spaces of the hotel’s ground level were turned into party areas with separate musical performances.
David Johansen, in his hipster Buster Poindexter persona, and his combo rocked out until 1 a.m. in one room. A jazz combo was in another space and a DJ hosted in the largest room.
Murray moved from one room to another to catch all the action and mix with guests. At one point, he darted next to me at the bar, where he parked a glass of expensive champagne and said, “Finish this for me, will you?” Then he was off to another room to catch the music and mingle some more.
Later Murray headed a conga line that snaked through all three rooms. To cap off the evening, he got on stage and jammed with Poindexter and Jenny Lewis, including performing a raucous rendition of “Louie, Louie.”
Even when the live performances ended, the party kept on rocking in the DJ area, where Murray kept circulating and celebrating until nearly 1:30 a.m.
“A Very Murray Christmas” premieres on Netflix Friday, December 4.