BWW Reviews: MURDER BALLAD MURDER MYSTERY Is A Hysterical Western Spoof
On their website, Paper Chairs describes their latest production, Murder Ballad Murder Mystery as "part existential whodunit, part slapstick haunting, and part ramshackle hoedown [that] investigates the many ways and whys we carry out a death sentence." I didn't see the existential pieces or the ruminations on the death sentence when I caught a performance on Thursday night, but quite frankly, I don't care. Murder Ballad Murder Mystery is a disjointed, non-linear, and nonsensical spoof on the western and musical genres, and I loved every wacky moment of it.
Paper Chairs originally produced Murder Ballad Murder Mystery back in 2009. The original, full-length musical premiered at Austin's Vortex Theatre, and now the theater company has trimmed the show down to an hour long show that can travel to various bars and saloons. While I missed the original version of the show, Murder Ballad Murder Mystery 2.0 is overwhelmingly entertaining.
Any shortcomings of the Elizabeth Doss's book, such as the occasional underdevelopment of relationships and the lack of any mystery that may be suggested by the title, is more than compensated by her wit and ability to craft hilarious one-liners. As a performer, Doss is a standout as well, especially when she gets to perform a comic slow-motion death while also crooning a Spanish language ballad. It's one of many quirky, oddball moments that make the show great.
The score by Mark Stewart pulls from bluegrass, country, and a bit of rock-and-roll to give the show an Appalachian feel. Though most of the songs are on the shorter side, they're all well-crafted. The lyrics, which are somehow uncredited, are bizarre, eccentric, and sidesplitting as well. Many of the shows best moments come in song, such as a delightfully morbid duet between a killer and the corpse of his victim. Of the cast, all are strong, though several don't get enough to do during the hour long show to truly stand out. The ones that do, though, manage to make a lasting impression. As mentioned before, Doss milks her moment in the spotlight. April Perez is evil and raunchy as the town's teenage bully, and Noel Gaulin is a crowd favorite as the crazy-eyed, foul-mouthed outlaw, Stagger Lee.
Murder Ballad Murder Mystery may prove to be a divisive show. If you're looking for a conventional musical or a traditional western, you may be disappointed, but if you're up for a peculiar, original work, odds are you'll think it's murderously fun.
NOTE: For mature audiences only. Running time: Approximately one hour, no intermission.
MURDER BALLAD MURDER MYSTERY, produced by Paper Chairs, plays the Hi-Ho Lounge in New Orleans, LA on 11/23 at 9pm, the Scoot Inn in Austin, TX on 11/29 at 7:30pm, the Hole in the Wall in Austin, TX on 12/3 and 12/4 at 9pm, and the Lost Horse Saloon in Marfa, TX on 12/7 at 8pm. Tickets are $5-$10 suggested donation at the door only. For information, visit www.paperchairs.com.