It may not be apparent, but for the variety of shows that I see - from Shakespeare and the classics to the trendy, new shows of the season - the unconventional always catches my attention. And if I am really going to be candid, throw me a musical with murder and blood and sex involved and you can be sure that I will be in that orchestra way more often then say, the orchestra of Motown: The Musical.
That particularly remains true for Murder Ballad, now open at the Union Square Theater. Except, no orchestra. Nope, it is staged in the round with most of its original production in tact. Why change what worked before? And I adored the original production. Done and done.
Bottom line: it's awesome, you guys. Some moments in the show make me clap my hands with glee that they exist outside of my imagination. From the opening number, where the narrator makes a point of singing about how someone has to die, to the curtain call number, a jovial take on murder-based stories and how you could be a murderer or a victim next, is just wickedly funny and smart. Beautiful sounding too - Juliana Nash and Julia Jordan's score and lyrics don't have too many weak spots (if at all) and there are moments when it is in flawless harmony with Trip Cullman's cabaret-like staging.
The original cast that held over from the original run has only gotten stronger, Rebecca Naomi Jones in particular. Already a Lucille Lortel nominee for her performance, girlie is tearing up the
stage bar with her sexy, snarky and badass Narrator. She is clearly loving every second of her commentary and observing the central storyline...and we are right alongside her and her irresistible charm. Caissie Levy, the new addition to the cast in place of Karen Olivo, is also wonderful as Sara, the female caught up in the love triangle. With her gorgeous looks, body (DAMN, Caissie) and voice, it is easy to see why two men are pining for her. And for all the Berger/Sheila shippers out there, watching her get it on with Will Swenson, her former Hair co-star, will be downright delightful for you.
In a date and time where sung-through shows, operas as it were, are treated like second-rate fodder because the story is sans-book, it is nice to see that Murder Ballad succeeds not only because its concept is unique, but that it delivers in every other aspect. I'd recommend that you go on down and see it because some smart producer probably already has and is plotting a Broadway transfer. And don't you want to be the one to say you saw it way back when?! That luxury doesn't happen often, because not many shows are as stellar as this one.
Tickets provided by the production
Photo Credit: Sara Krulwich