Monday, May 13, 2013

REVIEW: MURDER BALLAD at the Union Square Theatre


When I walked into the Union Square Theatre, I was transported into a dive bar inhabited by some super talented theatre stars. The theatre made sure to make this unique rock musical a truly immersive experience for the audience.

MURDER BALLAD is the story of Sara (Caissie Levy) who leaves her youth and recklessness behind to settle down with Michael (John Ellison Conlee), a poet and professional, and leave her old flame Tom (Will Swenson) behind. But in this love story, narrated by Narrator Rebecca Naomi Jones, Sara can't check her reckless youth at the door and struggles to completely leave behind her past.

The space was set by risers and chairs on three of the four sides, a stage on the fourth side for the band (that looked more like something I'd see in a club than an orchestra for a show), and in the center of the space was a bunch of small tables and chairs (with audience in many of them, but some open for cast members to use), a pool table, and a long bar. The bar was open before and after the performance, for people to really feel like they were in the bar in which the play takes place.

There was no true focal point for the entirety of the 80-minute, sung through show. The cast moved throughout the space. (Will and Caissie both got to belt on the stair right next to my seat). This was a strange experience for me, because I never knew exactly where to be looking and tried to make sure I didn't miss anything. I was impressed with how director Trip Cullman manipulated the space, to tell a visual story where there was no focal point. I never felt like I couldn't see the action, no matter where in the space a scene/moment was taking place.

The score, by Jonathan Larson Award-winner Juliana Nash was a very generic pop-rock score, that definitely was more pop CD than musical theatre score, but it worked in context. What I really loved about the score was that it flowed directly into itself, and there was never a dramatic, weird shift in tone. The musical motifs repeated themselves well throughout the whole show. This is definitely a score though that needs to be part of the show or listened to in its entirety on the recording. There weren't any specific stand-out songs to me (even though specific moments shone).

Rebecca Naomi Jones, who played the Narrator of the story, was the strongest point for me. Vocally she was always on point and sounded AMAZING, and had phenomenal comedic timing that made her really seem a part of the story, even though she was almost entirely an observer. While she was the stand out for me, there was no weak link in this cast. The chemistry and talent were through the roof, and all four voices melded together perfectly and were perfectly suited for this pop score.

This was one of the coolest, most unique theatre experiences I have ever had and I hope this show has a long life ahead of it. I want to go back and see it again, it was that wonderful.