There’s a history at Actor’s Express of blowing away audience expectations and making immersive productions. Like with this summer’s Rocky Horror or Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson last year, Murder Ballad explodes with passion and sexuality in an in-your-face knockout punch.
Mostly sung, the Off-Broadway hit musical by Julia Jordan and Juliana Nash, tells the story of betrayal, passion and murder with a surprising finale. Narrated by a sultry club singer (Jessica De Maria), the story revolves around Sara (Kristen Alyson Browne) who falls in love with Michael (Kevin Harrry) after a heated but short-lived romance with a bar owner named Tom (Jeremy Harrison). She develops a happy life with Michael, but when she tires of the normalcy of her new life, a phone call to her past lover changes everything.
With songs that range from power ballads to hard rock, the driving score by Nash creates the perfect tapestry for this tale. The music sets the tone for the emotions of the characters and provides an almost palpable way for the audience to feel them. These emotions are perfectly captured by Joseph P. Monaghan III’s remarkable lighting design.
Set inside a bar, designed with fine-tooth precision by Isabel and Moriah Curley-Clay, the audience becomes immersed in the action. Under the direction of Freddie Ashley, the actors move throughout the audience seated at the bar tables set up around a pool table. Added to the hand stamp instead of a ticket, the setting transports the audience into this intense and rewarding experience.
While sometimes the actors may seem like they are in a bad rock video, there’s not much to fault in the production. Each of the actors display the roller coaster of emotions with such believability you can’t help feeling sympathetic and angry, even at the same character as the show progresses. Vocally, the cast is not as strong, but the rock score allows for imperfect vocals.
The cast works well off each other, letting each character have their moment to shine. However, one cast member stands out among the rest. Harry shines in his roles as the devoted Michael, and it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role.
A tantalizing, adrenaline-infused rock musical, Murder Ballad runs through December 7, 2014 at Actor’s Express. For tickets and more information, please visit the theater’s website. The show’s run time is 90 minutes without an intermission.
– Kenny Norton