It can't be easy acting for 90 minutes straight in front of a live audience. Throw in the detail that you're not just speaking your lines but rather singing every word, and the rock musical Murder Ballad becomes a true tour de force for a quartet cast.
On the heels of its New York City run, Murder Ballad's national regional premiere with TUTS Underground this month is garnering a lot of attention. The evocative story of a love triangle gone homicidal is at times funny, at times raucous and often downright titillating.
Let's get one thing straight from the beginning. Houston native Kristin Warren as the narrator is the star of this show. Each member of the four-person cast brings different strengths and tremendous vigor to their role. But frankly none has the raw talent of Warren, who adeptly renders her character's devilish, fly-on-the-wall part with an explosive singing voice.
Warren as the narrator introduces us to Sara (Lauren Molina), an impressionable millennial living in New York City and her boyfriend Tom (Steel Burkhardt) a young bar owner. Theirs is a relationship clearly built around physicality, but when Tom's playboy tendencies become too much for Sara, she bolts. Enter the less volatile Michael (Pat McRoberts), a professional with aspirations to settle down, who proves to be just what Sara needs. Marriage and a kid soon follow, and the years pass quickly on stage. Soon Sara finds her staid, quiet life on the Upper West Side isn't enough and she goes looking for the excitement she once had in Tom.
Complications ensue, as they often do in such situations. But arguably the most compelling element of Murder Ballad is just how common such situations really are. The "grass is always greener" theme of the tale is something we all struggle with, to varying degrees. Sure this relationship is solid, but is it enough? Yes, this job is a good one, but do I want more out of my career? The fact that Tom, Sara and Michael's particular predicament ends with a bloody bat makes it fantastic theater. But as the actors tell us in comic styling at the end, it's a cautionary tale that should be heeded.
Murder Ballad is the second-to-last performance in the inaugural year of TUTS Underground. So far, the new, more immersive experience is proving a successful venture for Theater Under the Stars. In the case of Murder Ballad, the set is actually a working bar, where guests can grab a cocktail and even play a round of pool before the show starts. Some guests are even invited to watch the action from tables set up on stage, as if they're patrons in the bar itself. The intimate experience brings us that much closer to the cast, allowing us to see details of their interactions that would be lost in a larger staging. TUTS Underground is certainly on to something.
Murder Ballad has five more performances through Sunday. Click here to get two tickets for the price of one!
Cries of Bloody Murder Ring at TUTS
Wednesday, April 23, 2014 by A.J. Mistretta