Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Murder Ballad **

(Please click on the title to see the complete review.)
This through-sung rock opera by Julia Jordan and Juliana Nash, which received positive reviews at Manhattan Theater Club Stage II last year, has reopened at the Union Square Theater, which has been reconfigured for the occasion. Traditional seats in a U surround a central area set up as a bar, complete with pool table and cabaret seating for those who want to be in on the action. The four characters are lovely Sara (Cassie Levy), who, after a tempestuous affair with hot bartender Tom (Will Swenson), settles for marriage to Michael (John Ellison Conlee), an older, less photogenic professor of poetry. (Too bad the professor wasn't available to assist with the lame lyrics.) When Sara gets the seven year itch and resumes her affair with Tom, there's trouble, as sexy narrator (Rebecca Naomi Jones) tells us. I wish I could join the chorus of praise for the show, but it did not engage me at any level. The tabloid-worthy tale, the deafening music, the pointless running to and fro and standing on chairs were turnoffs for me. I did not particularly care who would be murdered or who did it. The performances are energetic and the voices are fine when they can be heard over the musicians. The large set, designed by Mark Wendland, diffuses the action too much. Jessica Pabst's costumes are apt. Ben Stanton's garish lighting in neon colors is bilious. Trip Cullman's direction seems to be based on the idea that if you keep the actors running around enough, no one will notice the thinness of the material. I might have liked it better had I not seen the other far better environmental pop opera ("Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812") first, but I doubt it. Fairness compels me to state that most of the audience seemed to be enjoying it. Running time:  80 minutes without intermission.

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