THE BASICS: MURDER BALLAD, by Julia Jordan with music and lyrics by Juliana Nash, directed by Doug Weyand, starring Anthony Alcocer, Leah Berst, Jenn Stafford, and Ricky Needham. 9/14 – 10/15 Thu-Sat 7:30, Sun 2:00. (Note: Curtain Up! performance Friday, September 22 is at 8:00.) (716) 629-3069, roadlesstraveledproductions.org
RUNTIME: 90 Minutes with one 10 minute intermission
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: Murder Ballad is the dramatic story of a love triangle gone wrong, an exploration of love, lust, and betrayal centering on Sara, an uptown girl who seems to have it all with her husband Michael, but whose downtown past with bad boy Tom lingers enticingly and dangerously in front of her.
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION:
I consider myself pretty well versed when it comes to musical theatre so when Murder Ballad was announced at Road Less Traveled, I was immediately intrigued. Here was a show that I hadn’t heard of and knew nothing about. Murder Ballad is the story of a love triangle and the resulting murder. It tells the story of Tom, a bartender played by Anthony Alcocer, Michael, a poetry professor played by Ricky Needham, and a young woman named Sara played by Jenn Stafford, who starts the show as a bartender but who’s role changes after she meets Michael. In addition to these three players, there is also a narrator who takes through the events leading up to the murder played by Leah Berst.
This was an amazing cast. Each of these four are powerhouses in their own right and the show allows each of them to shine. Leah Berst as the narrator had me hooked on her character from the opening number “Murder Ballad.” She is the glue that holds this cast together. Her character serves as an omnipresent, albeit at times cynical, guide that walks us through the events leading up to the murder. During “Clubs and Diamonds/Prattle 6” her role as the narrator comes full circle.
Ricky Needham as the somewhat clueless but lovestruck poetry professor Tom really had me empathizing with his character. The number where he blew me away didn’t come until late in the show when he and Jenn Stafford’s Sara sang “Little by Little Reprise.” The way he conveyed his betrayal and hurt during this number really blew me away.
Anthony Alcocer as Tom was a masterclass. He played this role that took me on a rollercoaster of emotions. He had me sympathizing with his character at the beginning but as the show moved through the story that sympathy turned to a little bit of terror especially during “You Belong to Me” and “Prattle 5” where his character creepily follows Sara to the park with her child and Michael.
The set design by Dyan Burlingame was both simple but effective. The blood spattered stage is an ominous reminder throughout the show that someone isn’t going to make it to the end. The scenery doesn’t change but that doesn’t matter because you always know exactly where you are throughout the story.
My issues with the show have nothing to do with the brilliant cast. It’s an interesting show that will keep you guessing as to who is going to die and who the killer is until the very end. Each member of the ensemble has a motive and when the murder was finally revealed I couldn’t help but smile because I had been fooled. The issue I had with the show is bogged down with clunky metaphors (“it hurts like a mouth tattoo” or “like a cat in a fish bowl”).
If you are fan of rock musicals, murder podcasts or shows that include a fatal attraction element, this show is definitely worth checking out. It will keep you guessing and this cast does an amazing job of taking you through their story and it left me excited for the rest of Road Less Traveled’s season!
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!