Printer Friendly - First Preview of Murder Ballad

First Preview of Murder Ballad
Posted by WhizzerMarvin TrinaJasonMendel 2012-10-31 22:21:55

I was at the nicely-attended first preview of Murder Ballad tonight, and overall liked it. It wasn't perfect, and instead of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts, the parts were all stronger than the total experience.

The cast of four is very strong, especially Rebecca Naomi Jones. It must be nice to be able to wake up in the morning, look in the mirror and know, "Damn, I'm fine." The hair, the body, the outfit- she was dripping with sex tonight. Heaven help her if she ever became a contestant on DWTS; Bruno would lose it after every performance. And then there's her voice. It's so good, they should record this if for no other reason than to preserve her talents at their peak. My friend said you just can't look away from her, and keeping with our reality theme he added: she has the X Factor.

Karen Olivo is very strong too. This might be the most naturalistic performance I've seen her give and her vocal performance will send ljay into swooning fits no doubt. :) She had nice chemistry with Will Swenson, and they shared some nice duets. John Ellison Conlee had the least likable character, so maybe that had something to do with why I was pretty lukewarm about him.

The show itself is a sung-through rock musical. At first I thought it was just a song cycle, but it definitely has a plot (and I twist I didn't see coming). Basically Will and Karen have a steamy three year relationship. The sex is great, but she wants more. When he refuses she meets the older and less-attractive Conlee who can provide her stability and marriage, but no real passion. Fast forward 6 years or so and the three characters are heading on a collision course for murder. I guess you're supposed to keep guessing who the victim(s) and who the killer(s) will be. Rebecca is the narrator.

I really liked most of the music. Catchy melodies, but no big standout numbers. It's all leitmotifs and such; I don't think there's a single break for applause in the whole intermissionless show. The lyrics/pace of the story could use a little more shaping. Sometimes it lags a little, and unfortunately there's very little humor.

Rebecca did have one funny lyric, ripped straight from a Datalounge thread title: I hate New York's gentrification/Mommy Stroller Domination. There was also a reference to, I assume, Mississippi Mermaid when Rebecca sang a song about the plot being like a French movie- let me get Truffaut, Deneuve and Belmondo. The thing is I didn't see any relation to the characters in Mississippi Mermaid.

The staging was interactive and reminded me of the Transport Group's Hello Again.

I recommend it for the performances and music, and really do hope it's recorded. It might even play better on disc than on stage.

First Preview of Murder Ballad
Posted by egghumor 2012-10-31 22:29:11

An enjoyable and informative dispatch, as always, Whizzer. Thanks!

It's also nice to know theater (at least up- and midtown) is up and running again.

Best wishes to everyone in New York and New Jersey!

First Preview of Murder Ballad
Posted by GavestonPS 2012-10-31 22:55:26

Yes. Thank you, Whizzer. I always enjoy your reports, especially because I'm 3,000 miles away and not likely to see this production.

First Preview of Murder Ballad
Posted by WhizzerMarvin TrinaJasonMendel 2012-10-31 23:03:02

Thanks guys :)

I'm surprised you didn't hear some of Karen's belting, even at 3,000 miles away! Listen harder next performance you might hear it traveling on a breeze! (There was one moment when she was walking through a part of the audience seated at tables. She was emoting and belting so intensely that she grabbed the shoulder of an audience member to steady herself and sang the verse to him!!)

First Preview of Murder Ballad
Posted by Play Esq. 2012-11-01 00:09:09

Whizzer, I generally love your first night prev-reviews, but I have to respectfully add: I think you were way too generous tonight.

Yes, performances were all top notch, and yet sadly all wasted on this piece. This was a sort of Next-to-See-What-I-Want-Wild-Party-LITE Musical that challenges the patience of theater-goers. Trite lyrical cliche followed one lyric to the next...and let me be clear, to call this writing base is too generous: for example "feeling oh so cold / and yet trying not to feel old" (not taken from the piece...but comparable). Eye rolling to the point of sickening.

Music was purfuntury, but all too obvious (SPOILER! Much like the plot!). Staging was interesting -- but not compelling enough to make up for a horribly weak plot. I spent far too much of the (very long!) 90 minute performance staring at Will's pecks and Karen's haunting face.

Yes this was a first preview, but I think it's fair to say this is not salvageable. If you want to see great performers performing mediocre material in a small space (especially Rebecca Naomi Jones) then you're in luck. If you have yet to buy a ticket, word to the wise: AVOID!

First Preview of Murder Ballad
Posted by LimelightMike 2012-11-01 18:15:59

Does this show have a Playbill?

First Preview of Murder Ballad
Posted by Play Esq. 2012-11-02 19:43:25

Yes...but I left mine in the theater :-/

First Preview of Murder Ballad
Posted by WhizzerMarvin TrinaJasonMendel 2012-11-02 22:05:24

Just catching up with this thread...

Play Esq, You are correct. I was being generous, but I still really did enjoy it because of the performance. Normally, I admit, I wouldn't be so able to look past the flaws in the material, but for a small off-Broadway space, and $15 tickets I felt I got my money's worth. I don't know if this was the purpose, but I went in like I would one of the Public's "Lab" productions. A work in progress, taking advantage of very strong performances to hopefully further shape the show.


Maybe I'm easily fooled, but I never saw the twist coming that it was Rebecca who was the killer. Did you figure that out? I thought Karen was going to be the victim, or maybe Will, but never thought Rebecca would do the bashing.

END SPOILER*************************

Mike- I still have my playbill. Did you have a specific question about it?

First Preview of Murder Ballad
Posted by cglaid 2012-11-02 23:06:45

Where is the best place to sit? Table, center, or right? Thanks! $30 is hard to pass up.

First Preview of Murder Ballad
Posted by LimelightMike 2012-11-03 00:31:27

Is it like, a normal, standard Playbill (cover, song list, et al), to hypothetically, fit in a Playbill binder?

Moreover, what of the cover art? I love these lesser-known pieces of theatrical splendor, would love to see it for myself!

First Preview of Murder Ballad
Posted by iluvtheatertrash 2012-11-03 00:46:35

Did I hear something about Will Swenson's pecs? Is he shirtless a lot? Now, I GOTTA go!

First Preview of Murder Ballad
Posted by WhizzerMarvin TrinaJasonMendel 2012-11-03 08:32:45

I think the best place to sit is in the center section. The table seating has the actors walking through and interacting with you, but you will be constantly spinning around in your seat to see the action.

The playbill is a normal issue Playbill with the yellow band on the top and the artwork below. There really isn't artwork, but just "Murder Ballad" printed. I could try to take a picture of it if you like.

Will is never shirtless, but he wore a tight shirt. Honestly Rebecca, Karen and Will are all SO beautiful to look at that they almost but you in a daze.

First Preview of Murder Ballad
Posted by Play Esq. 2012-11-03 09:09:32

"Will is never shirtless, but he wore a tight shirt. Honestly Rebecca, Karen and Will are all SO beautiful to look at that they almost put you in a daze."


I also agree with you about seating choices -- unless you want are more interactive experience, the center section is the best way to go, rows B or higher ideally.

Whizzer: Had I entered the theater with a similar mindset as you, I probably would have enjoyed it more. But the names attached and the fact that it is a MTC presentation made me think that this was intended to be a fully realized production, albeit one in previews. More akin to works at Roundabout's or Lincoln Center's black box spaces than Public Lab works.

As for the ending, I saw that coming about 20 minutes before it happened. The ending actually added to my frustration with the show. Couldn't help thinking "*Really*? The narrator who was only passingly an actual character in the play committed the murder?!?!?!"

First Preview of Murder Ballad
Posted by LimelightMike 2012-11-04 05:22:22

Thanks so much for the insight!

Booked a ticket for later this month, super stoked!

Could you post the musical numbers / set list? That is to say, if it's indeed listed in the Playbill.

It runs, what? An hour and a half? I heard a song (via the MTC website, and am HOOKED!)

First Preview of Murder Ballad
Posted by little_sally 2012-11-04 15:05:45

I bought tickets to this based on the cast alone (I know virtually nothing about the show itself) but I'm pretty excited for it.

First Preview of Murder Ballad
Posted by ljay889 2012-11-08 01:32:44

Omg. I just read this thread now. I've been so out of the loop. I hope to see this show!