The musical "Murder Ballad" debuted last fall as part of a Manhattan Theater Club series devoted to new work. Now, it's transferred downtown to the Union Square Theatre, which has been completely redesigned to accommodate the show's unique staging. NY1's Roma Torre filed the following review.
There's a lot of sound and fury in "Murder Ballad", not to mention steamy romance and booze-fueled violence. But what does it all signify? Well, not much really, but thanks to an attractive quartet of talented actors and a provocative score, the one thing this rock opera does signify is the triumph of style over substance.
The story, featuring a trio of lovers, is as old and cliched as the hills. A young woman, Sara, looking for action, hooks up with Tom, a randy bartender, and they engage in a hot and heavy affair. But their volatile relationship ends badly, propelling Sarah into the arms of smart and stable Michael. After 10 years together, Sara seeks out her old flame. They start up again and, of course, someone has to die.
But it's not the "what" as much as the "how" that accounts for the show's appeal. It's staged as if in an actual bar with audience members seated at tables in the playing space. Director Trip Cullman keeps the energy level high as the actors jump, punch, pull, push and mount each other at an exhausting pace. Juliana Nash's score, if not always killer, is never less than clever and seductive.
The actors, flinging themselves about in heightened states of passion, deserve combat pay. The golden voiced Rebecca Naomi Jones as narrator teases out the story compellingly. John Ellison Conlee is a strong, bold presence. And though Will Swenson and Caissie Levy are playing stereotypes, they work hard to bring added dimension to their cardboard roles.
On paper, the show, conceived by Julia Jordan, doesn't look like much more than a Spanish soap opera, but given the stylized concept and first rate company, "Murder Ballad", as theatre, comes alive.