A series in which I get a last minute ticket for a show then write about it
By Sam Perwin
One of the unabashed joys of living in New York City is the fact that, should you find yourself with no plans at 7:30pm on any given night, you can wander through the Theatre District or up to an Off-Broadway box-office and try to last-minute rush a show. Similarly, you never know when you'll get one of those delightful texts from a friend with an extra ticket to something fabulous that night. I've seen a number of wonderful and less-than-wonderful shows this way, and I am herewith launching my own Crazytown Series known as "Tales from Impromptu Theatre." Part review, part crazy circumstances of my life, all for your delight. Today's tale: Murder Ballad at the Union Square theatre.
I zipped down to Union Square on my bike after a friend told me he was going to see this crazy, sexy, four-person rock-opera. The space is set up to look like a bar (that actually serves drinks before the show) with some audience members at tables in the middle and the rest of us surrounding the action on 3 sides. Shows set up like this can really be hit or miss, but it seems to be a trend of spunky off-broadway musicals (cf. Natasha and the Great Comet of 1812). Here it works quite well, due in no small part to director Trip Cullman's use of space: the action travels from a Lower East Side dive to an Upper West Side apartment, to Central Park and everywhere in between, and yet you're never lost or confused.
Overall, I had a great time. The show's a lean, hot, 80 minutes of sex, drugs (well, mostly alcohol), and rock-and-roll. It's a trite "tale of love gone wrong", as the smokey voiced narrator Rebecca Naomi Jones sings, but the performances and the score shine through the skimpy story. The ladies far a bit better than the men. I've always loved Cassie Levy since I saw her in Hair and she seems to be having a great time belting her face off. Rebecca Naomi Jones guides us through the story with spunk and flair, and Will Swensen, though always sexy and captivating, remains incomprehensible when it comes to lyrics. I missed a lot of story whenever he sang - though how much of that was due to the lackluster sound design I'm not sure. Juliana Nash's score is utterly listenable, though fares much better on recording than it did in the space (see aforementioned sound design/mix). Not sure if it's just that he equipment isn't the best down there, but it seems like by 2013 we should be able to successfully mix a rock-show and have everyone be heard.
With its $30 for under 30 rush-policy, quick running time, and Union Square location, Murder Ballad is a perfect impromptu theatre choice. It's also an easy thrill for out of towers with its enticing score and "downtown" edge. I say go for it. That's all for this first episode of "Tales from Impromptu Theatre" - expect many more to come!