Friday, May 24, 2013

Hit List Doesn't Exist, But Murder Ballad Is The Next Best Thing

In the move from Manhattan Theatre Club's Studio at Stage II to the Union Square Theatre, Murder Ballad has a larger performance space, lost Karen Olivo, and gained Caissie Levy, but the show remains pretty much the same--a sexy sung-through musical with great performers that make it worth seeing, even if the story is weak. I enjoyed the show more this time around, probably because I was with friends and had a drink.

Rebecca Naomi Jones is the narrator who tells us at the beginning that there will be a murder, though you don't know who will die and who will kill (it's not too hard to figure out if you're paying attention). She tells us about Sara (Levy) and Tom (Will Swenson), who are hot and in love. As evident from the ads, Levy and Swenson have intense chemistry, also seen on Broadway in Hair. But passion isn't enough to keep Sara and Tom together and they breakup. She marries Michael (the ever-reliable John Ellison Conlee), but later reconnects with Tom, and you get the idea.

The score by Juliana Nash (Julia Jordan co-wrote the lyrics) has a generic rock musical feel, which is aided by the powerhouse vocalists (especially Jones) who make it sound much better than it probably is. I did appreciate the mention of The Beatles song "Maxwell's Silver Hammer," which is where I got the idea for my blog name. I couldn't help but think of the fictional Hit List in Smash, which also features a murder--touted as daring and edgy, but it's really just a musical theater version of edgy, which is to say, not really at all. The one truly inspired moment is the final one, which I don't want to spoil here.

Scenic designer Mark Wendland has transformed the space into a cabaret with a working bar and a pool table. Trip Cullman's direction uses the space well to create an immersive theater experience. If you are sitting at a table, you might have some actors dancing on it. Kudos to Jessica Pabst for creating costumes that fit the actors so well. If the morality tale doesn't influence you to lead a better life, you will surely at least be motivated to hit the gym.

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