In my trip to support the economy in New York since Sandy came to town, I couldn’t resist going to a preview of this play as I am big fans of two of its stars: Tony winner Karen Olivo and Will Swenson.
While critics aren’t permitted at previews as its style ironing out its kinks, this rock-oriented musical couldn’t have been better – preview or not.
The intimate studio at MTC has been transformed into a bar with a stage for a band, cocktail tables and pool table. All the scenes take place in this bar set, sometimes the pool table doubles as a bed or couch but is easy to go with the flow. Additionally, the scenes take place among the audience as well, who becomes practically part of the show.
Every now and then an actor, picks up a prop glass placed in the audience or they sit at empty chairs among some of the cabaret tables.
This in your face staging is nothing short of masterful from director Trip Cullman. This adds an edge to the intimacy of the small studio and gives an urgency and almost uncomfortable feeling among the audience, adding to the tension of the tales being told by the shows four stars.
For those who are missing a rock ‘n roll non-traditional element to their Broadway musicals,
“Murder Ballad” more than fills the void of the departed “Rent.” In fact, book writer and co-lyricist Julia Jordan won the Jonathan Larson Award winner, and her work is obviously inspired by his brilliance. Her co-lyricist and composer Juliana Nash well compliments Jordan’s words.
Sure I went for Olivo and Swenson – and neither of them disappointed. They are on-fire in this show as a pair of lovers who have had trouble moving on. In every scene they remind us all why they are both two of the greatest talents currently on the New York stage.
John Ellison Conlee as Olivio’s current love interest actually surprises in the depth he brings to his role. Matched against the showier parts his counterparts play, Conlee’s character builds as the show goes on and reminds us why he’s been nominated for a Tony Award and is no stranger to the MTC.
But the real revelation here, and I’ve saved the best for last, is Rebecca Naomi Jones. Remember that name. You will hear from her a lot.
Jones open the show as the narrator and she blows the house down with her first number and made an instant fan of me. Haunting and powerful, her voice elevates her part to a plane that not even the writers could have imagined. It’s great to see her have so many moments to shine as a lot of her previous work was more ensemble pieces.
You must act now as it only plays through Dec. 16th at the Manhattan Theatre Club’s Studio. All seats are only $30. Yes – $30!! That’s right $30. You can also enjoy a cocktail at the adjacent bar in the theatre and if you aren’t a fan of the traditional curtain times, “Murder Ballad” has some alternative times during several of its performances. Get more information and tickets at www.manhattantheatreclub.com.