BWW Reviews: Dirty Little Secrets Are at the Heart of MURDER BALLAD
Every one has "kegs" in their garage -- those dirty little secrets they like to sweep in corners and skeletons they try to keep hidden in their overstuffed closets.
The cast of MURDER BALLAD has more than a keg filled with secrets; it has a full bar. The patrons of the King's Club bar are center stage in the Rose-Tinted Productions' two-act, 85-minute musical at the Short North Stage. With the show taking place in the Garden Theater's green room, the bar is in the center and the 60-plus person audience surrounds it. The result is a setting almost as intimate as the story being presented.
Directed by Edward Carignan and produced by Ben Skinner, MURDER BALLAD tells the timeless story of a murderous love triangle. However because of the proximity of the actors and power of their ballads, it's impossible to be unmoved by their respective plights. It is tennis-court theater at its best with the audiences' heads turning to each of the characters at the speed of a Roger Federer serve to see what is going to happen next.
The show-opening title track "Murder Ballad," states there's always a killer so logically someone has to die. So the audience knows one of the characters is not going to make it to the final curtain alive. The rest of the show, the audience is left to figure out who is going to be the one holding the baseball bat and who is at the wrong end of it.
What makes the show work is any of the cast could be either the victim or the murderer. The list of suspects is plentiful.
Sara (beautifully portrayed by Kaitlin Descutner) is at the heart of the love triangle. A New York City barfly at the beginning of the show, Sara snuffs out the volatile romance with Tom (Jason Carl Crase) and is soon swept off her staggering feet by the good-natured Michael (Nick Cirillo). However Sara soon finds herself longing to shed the "Show-n-tell" life of a stay-at-home mom and longs for the passionate embrace of Tom. Descutner's voice captures the anguish of a woman turn to between mad passion and a safe and stable relationship.
Cirillo's Michael offers a voice of comfort at the beginning of the relationship but has a captivating turn-of-character when he finds he's been betrayed by his wife.
One would think Crase would've learned his lesson about going after married women after playing the murdered lover in the Short North Theater's excellent production of TOMMY. However he does an excellent job of portraying Sara's relentless pursuer after she decides to return to her husband. In a few bars of "You Belong to Me," he transforms from a lovesick ex (I've always been in love with you. I'd do anything you ask me) to a possessive, controlling lover (I think we both know you're not leaving. You belong to me and I will never let you go).
Throughout the first act, the narrator (Corinne Davis) observes the interactions of the three with rolled eyes and smirks as she downs shots of Jack Daniels. In the second act, the narrator no longer stands on the outside but finds herself in the middle of the action. Her song "Clubs and Diamonds" is one of the highlights of the show.
Matthew Ebright directs a well-tuned band that gives Juliana Nash's lyrics a classic RENT-like feel and keeps the show moving at a brisk pace.
While the plot keeps one guessing to the end, the little touches of the show give out gigantic clues about the characters. For example, Sara's outfit of conservative clothing with biker boots in the second act shows her struggle between being a stay-at-home mom and someone else's passionate lover. In the first act, the narrator cautiously pours herself carefully measured drinks but by the show's end, she's taking large swigs straight from the bottle.
The intimacy of the show could also be one of the biggest drawbacks to it commercially. With just 60-some seats available for each show, only a handful of people will get to see the Midwest debut of this show. Make sure you are one of them.
Rose-Tinted Productions will present MURDER BALLAD 8 p.m. Aug. 7-9 and Aug. 14-16 at the Short North Stage (1187 N. High Street in Columbus). Tickets begin at $30 and are on sale now by visiting MurderBalladColumbus.com or calling 614-725-4042.