The original production of ‘Murder Ballad’, by Julia Jordan and Juliana Nash, opened off-Broadway in 2013 at the Union Square Theatre, and now it makes it’s London premiere. This production is directed by Sam Yates and had already received much hype thanks to star names in the cast, but does it live up to expectations?
With some notable exceptions, rock musicals tend to struggle to keep the pace and momentum of a plot ticking along. This musical uses the story-telling technique of a ‘Murder Ballad’ to try and counter the problem. The story arc is familiar enough; ‘Sara’ and ‘Tom’ are lovers, but when ‘Sara’ meets ‘Michael’ she moves on and starts a family with him. Years later she is reunited with ‘Tom’ and the passion is rekindled. When ‘Michael’ finds out about the affair it’s only a matter of time until “someone must die”.
Though the characters really tell their own story, ‘The Narrator’ played by Victoria Hamilton-Barritt, keeps us all in the loop. She is exceptionally talented and has some stunning vocal performances. ‘Michael’ is played by Norman Bowman, with a deep gravel-like voice that is perfect for the genre, he balances the hurt and anger of a jilted spouse.
Kerry Ellis plays ‘Sara’ and does not disappoint, from passionate-lover to weeping-mother filled with regret when she is found out, she plays each part perfectly. Ramin Karimloo also gives an incredible performance, and when he duets with Kerry Ellis it is nothing short of beautiful, their voices fit so perfectly together.
It’s a raunchy production and Director, Sam Yates, has staged ‘Murder Ballad’ in an understated but effective way. The band are positioned behind the stage; occasionally revealed when the screens raise. Projections on those screens give essential clues to the wider story line, while a small revolve helps bring variety to the staging.
The music is certainly an attraction here, even if some of the lyrics are questionable; “we’re cats in a fishbowl, we’re dogs in a bone-yard”. The reverberating base of the score, though, gives the entire production depth and combined with the vocal talents of the four leads makes ‘Murder Ballad’ a sure fire hit.