Murder Ballad: a steamy tale where good does not prevail

by Kelly, Manager of Group and Partner Services

A tale of a love triangle gone wrong is brewing downtown.  The newly re-mounted production of the hip and sexy rock opera Murder Ballad opened May 22nd Off-Broadway at the Union Square Theatre, and has recently been extended through September 2013.

Beginning at a dive bar in the EastMB3 Village, passionate, wild Sara and brooding bartender Tom share an intense relationship that comes to an ugly end.  Still stinging from the bitter breakup, Sara’s guard is slowly let down when she meets sweet, academic Michael.  Together they begin a life of quiet domesticity on the Upper West Side as they marry and raise their daughter.  But as the predictable and safe life she is living starts to pale in comparison to her past, Sara ventures downtown and rekindles her torrid affair with Tom.  The slow burn of drama bursts into flame at the end of the story as Michael becomes wise to the affair and one of the trio meets a grisly end.

MB2Rounding out the small four-person cast and leading us through the story is the Narrator – an intriguing and enigmatic woman who sets the dark undertone of the show from her first notes and keeps the audience not only informed but on their toes as she adds quippy “asides” as Sara’s story unfurls before us.

The audience is engaged by all four characters throughout the show, as the actors enter, exit and emote in the aisles of the audience (seated completely around the main area of action.)  Certain audience members have on-stage seating as their tables become part of the action and cast members wind through their immediate area.  The staging of the show was extremely well done – all areas of seating had at least one cast member to focus on in close raMB4nge, as the action played through the entire theatre.  Though the physical set never changes, pieces such as a pool table and the bar effortlessly transform through the eyes of the cast, leading the audience to alternate locations of the city.

Julia Jordan (book and lyrics) and Juliana Nash’s (music and lyrics) rock opera score (there are no spoken scenes of dialogue – everything is sung) lends itself well to the story, as the action is constantly moving full steam ahead without interruption.

MB1As unsettled Sara, Caissie Levy (Hair; Ghost) leads the cast with a confident portrayal of a woman whose passions can never be seem to be tamed.  Her powerful vocals suit the rock opera genre and compliment the show’s score.  As her dark and stormy lover Tom, Will Swenson (Hair; Priscilla, Queen of the Desert) provides the perfect amount of smolder and smarm.  Sara’s cuckolded husband Michael is played with sincerity and heart by John Ellison Conlee (The Full Monty; The Madrid) – your heart breaks for him as the happy world he and Sara created crumbles before his eyes.  Yet the standout performance for me came from Narrator Rebecca Naomi Jones (American Idiot; Passing Strange.)  Jones’ haunting voice gave me chills and her whimsical and wry characterization held the audience in the palm of her hand throughout the show.

As the action comes to its peak and it is revealed which character ultimately succumbs in the end (and which character is responsible), a collective gasp rang throughout the audience – a true sign of good storytelling.  Edgy and fresh, Murder Ballad is an intriguing night of theatre that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Interested in seeing Murder Ballad for yourself?  Email me at kshoemaker@newyorkguest.com, or call us at 212-302-4019 for more information.

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