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11/16/12

Murder Ballad - Now THAT's How You Showcase a Love Triangle

If there is some sort of romantic device that has really been played out in all entertainment mediums, that would be the love triangle. And played out doesn't even cover it - some television shows and movies revolve around them. I'm personally not a fan only because the hit/miss ratio for a compelling love triangle is far skewered towards disappointment then success.

But oh man, did I love Murder Ballad, now open at the Studio at Stage II. Ironically enough, the entire show is nothing else, BUT a love triangle. How the hell did they pull that feat off? Basically, they took a simple story - Sarah loves Tom, they breakup, she moves on, marries and has a child, he misses her, they run into eachother, blah, blah, blah - and SEXified that up with the cabaret-like staging and an EPIC rock score. 

To say this show is sexy would be understatement...Venus in Fur is off somewhere being all, "what the eff Murder Ballad?" Setting the show in a bar, fully-stocked with alcohol for purchase before the show, and having the cast dance and slink in, out, around and on top of tables, chairs and a billiards table give the show this overwhelming feeling of SEX and DANGER and DRAMA, you know, in a fantastic way.

And how about that score, you guys? Helmed by Julia Jordan and Juliana Nash, it is downright covetable. I left the theater hoping the cast recording was being sold at the merchandise table - to my disappointment, it is not. If I see a Kickstarter circulating the web, I'll contribute, I swear. It is not just a rock store; it's moreso a myriad of pop, alternative, folk and jazz influences. And like a true opera, the score IS the show and translates beautifully and gives the show real depth.

The show also benefits from when the music stops altogether; it is as if time stands still in the theater. During these moments, as the cast shuffles slightly or the lighting alters, I realized I was holding my breath in anticipation of the next song or climatic moment. And if the actual show was not a treat enough, standby for the curtain call number - a wonderfully meta, hilarious and high-energy number, perfectly capping off the the already satisfying Murder Ballad.

On the performance front, Rebecca Naomi Jones and Karen Olivo really carry the show. Not that John Ellison Conlee or Will Swenson are anything less then great; it's just that the staging and performance style favors the scantily-clad, sex vamping of the ladies. Olivo, playing the role of Sarah, really commits to the confused, over-emotional girl caught with romantic feelings for the two different guys (and their respective lifestyles).

But Jones is so phenomenal in the role of the narrator (and a sort-of stand-in character), it is like she was born for this. Dressed only in a see-thru tank top with a fish-tail hem and micro shorts, she is serving up sex appeal like shrimp at a cocktail party. Also, her voice not only got stronger since American Idiot, it fits all of the mashed-up genres - she looks like a cabaret singer and sings like one. Love her.

But really, Murder Ballad, which just got a two-week extension tacked on to their run, is the type of theater-going experience that people want more of, with an emphasis on the word "experience." I anticipate it will become a tougher ticket thanks to glowing reviews and word-of-mouth...and rightly so. I may not have much faith in love triangles, but if they all were done well in the vein of this show, I would be less dismissive of them.

Photo Credit: Sara Krulwich

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