Murder Ballad – Over the Kill

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Murder Ballad, Photo Courtesy: Stillpointe Theatre

A REVIEW BY ACHILLES FEELS

Stillpointe Theatre, in this town, is known for high-octane-power-ballad, sing-your-ass-off musical theater.  They rock out.  And I love them for it.  We love them for it.  The city loves them for it.  They work hard and, usually, work good.  But unfortunately, I was a bit disappointed in Murder Ballad, their latest creation.  Let me explain, though, for heaven’s sake, before you go writing any nasty emails, [SAYIN. – TBO].

First, foremost, and chiefly: in a musical, the audience has to be able to hear what’s going on.  Murder Ballad (book and lyrics by Julia Jordan, music and lyrics by Juliana Nash) performs in the upstairs space of the Ottobar while a full-fledged music show (at eleven plus volume) is happening on the mainstage.  The idea is interesting, the venue awesome, the immersive atmosphere kickass…but, alas, I could not hear most of the show as the downstairs band played on (and on and on).  I get the staging of Ballad, because it’s written to be performed exactly like this, but what the fuck happened to the tech?  All four singers and the band use microphones, but they were so low, and kept cutting in and out, and this, added to the off-balance sound levels, made the whole experience frustrating.

And confusing.  Since I grokked about four words a sentence, the story (which doesn’t seem to be this show’s strong point, in any case) lost me, something that the gender-blind casting didn’t help, admirable and refreshing as the concept may be.  As far as I could tell, the plot examines a web of relationships between “new mother with a past” Sara (Sarah Heiderman), her husband, Michael (Moira Horowitz), her ex, Tom (Amber Wood) and a mysterious MC (Corey Hennessey). It’s hard to say if this grouchy, creepy narrator is part of the saga, facilitating the action, or what.

Direction from Hennessy was fine, but I expected more, particularly since he’s such a fucking great actor (LOVED him in last year’s Electric Pharaoh).  It seemed hesitant when I wanted swashbuckling.  Murder Ballad is a show wrought with sexual tension, passion, and heat; it’s the perfect time to break out a little jumping up on tables, knocking over bar stools, and generally getting into the moment.  But that, largely, doesn’t happen.  It was as if everybody was about to do something cool and then gave up and fast walked to the other side of the room.  I will say, though, that the performances were pretty stellar.  The kids can sing, and all of them exude a kind gritty realness that helps to ground the show.  They’re self-assured, mondo confident, and their acting choices bold, which was appreciated.  The production dream team of of Ryan Haase, Corey Hennessey, Zoe Kanter, and Danielle Robinette are to be congratulated, also: costumes were lovely, and lighting gave the whole thing some nice shape. The band (Trevor Shipley, Cody Raum, Joe Pipkin), led by the cool-as-a-cuke Nick Jewitt, who was also musical director, was just fucking fantastic.

THE BOTTOM LINE:  Stillpointe puts on neat shows in fabulous, unexpected places.  But you can’t win ’em all, and this go-round the concept didn’t work.  The space may be perfect, but the timing sucked.  The fuckers can sing, though, and look pretty damned good doing it, too, thanks to the design team.  You’ve only got a couple more chances to catch Murder Ballad, you just have to hope the night you go there’s a string quartet downstairs.

Running at The Ottobar until September 24th.

SECOND OPINION?

https://backstagebaltimore.wordpress.com/2016/09/11/review-murder-ballad-at-stillpointe-theatre-the-ottobar/

Email Achilles Feels at achillesfeels@gmail.com

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