By Erika Brown Thomas
No matter how many times it has been done or redone, there is something about love, betrayal and the opportunity for murder that seduces audiences to watch show after show featuring the same plot.
Boy meets girl meets boy: and thus was the love triangle of Bailiwick Chicago’s Murder Ballad and as the final number states, “That’s entertainment (until it happens to you)!”
Julia Jordan (Concept, Book and Lyrics) and Juliana Nash (Music and Lyrics) delve into the fascinating and mature audience realm of murder, sex, mystery and rock ballads. The well-contrived lyrics propel the show from beginning to end with humor, poignancy and, at times, dark anger and blatant violence. While enjoyable in the moment, the musical compositions as a whole leave the listener wanting more variety in tone, harmonic movement and style, although to be fair, the title does specifically state its preference for ballads.
James Beaudry (Director and Choreographer) has found the perfect balance of atmosphere, fun and machination to make this murder mystery come alive. From audience members sitting at tables on and around the stage to an actual sing-a-long of the Appalachian sweetheart murder ballad, “Tom Dooley,” every moment of the show is crafted to ensure audience involvement and an up close and personal experience of the production.
Nicholas Davio (Musical Director) coaches an excellent musical performance with tightly balanced harmonies from the cast and great dynamic distribution from the pit.
Although no instrumentalists are listed in the program a small band of musicians plays the 75-minute show. These performers were wonderful and certainly deserve credit for the their performances as much as the actors on stage. While labeled a rock musical, Murder Ballad really falls more into the rock opera genre, as there are no spoken words not belonging to a musical sequence.
Amanda Horvath (Sara) delivers a strong performance as a woman torn between two men: a passionate lover and a safe and loving husband. From the toes of her high-heeled boots to quite literally the quaking ends of her hair, Horvath is every inch the tormented love interest.
Chris Logan plays Tom, the “dangerous” boyfriend from the past with high energy and intensity. He seems to have the most legitimate grasp on the vocal technique that goes hand in hand with the style–complete with manipulation of vowels and words in unexpected, but usually satisfying musical phrases. His extremely creepy stalking song, “I’ll Be There,” showcases his ability to transfix an uncomfortable audience.
As the “good guy and lover of poetry,” Matt W. Miles (Michael) portrays the unsuspecting husband, communicating with depth as he weaves a multi-faceted view of the joys and difficulties of love and marriage.
Camille Robinson (Narrator) is the standout performer of the evening, displaying incredible vocal chops and sensitivity to the intrigue surrounding the mysteries and secrets of a murderous storyline. Unfortunately, her microphone on opening night seemed to have a few minor issues at the beginnings of many of her musical entrances, but the problem was more or less worked out before the show concluded.
The show is highly entertaining and an enjoyable, affordable opportunity for an adult night out with friends. Arrive early to indulge in a bar offering of Finch’s Craft Beer, wine (red or white) and specialty cocktails and the chance to chat with interact with the cast members.
“Murder Ballad” runs though Saturday, May 9, at the Flat Iron Arts Building, 1579 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago. Curtain times for Thursday and Friday are at 8 pm with two shows on Saturday beginning at 5:30 and 9 pm. Ticket prices range from $30-$40 and are available online here. $25 tickets are available for groups of 10 or more by calling (773) 969–6201.