November 20, 2016

Romance, Blood, Calamity: Murder Ballad at Risley

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Murder Ballad (directed by Cameron Krane ’17) is just what you want out of a Friday night as Risley Theater. It’s fun and exciting, a little bit messed up, well executed and small-scale. The musical has four main characters — a woman, her two love interests and a narrator. It’s a fairly typical New York City love triangle. Sara (Ana Carpenter ’19) is stuck between the respectable NYU poet and the sketchy downtown bartender. The show follows her heartbreak with the bartender, Tom (Spencer Campbell ’19), starting a family with Michael (Milo Dominguez ’20) the poet, and then realizing that just being a wife and a mother is not enough.

Musically, Murder Ballad is just as split as Sara. It’s a rock musical and a pop musical, depending on whom Sara is leaning towards in that scene. When Sara is with Tom, the music is charged and exciting; late nights, leather jackets and passion. When she’s with Michael, the music is as calm, caring and as poetic as he is. The two themes are smart and helpful. They do a great job of keeping the music from becoming monotonous, as can happen when musicals don’t have enough variety. The quartet sing well together and play off of each other. Ana Carpenter’s voice stood out in particular.

The entire play is narrated by Judelle White, Ithaca College, ’17. She kept the story on track and gave it the necessary context. Without her role, the play wouldn’t function.  She’s in charge. The Narrator also brings some comedic relief and weirdness to a play at risk of being overdramatic. Her expressions and body language during some scenes, where she is judging Sara’s actions, are major highlights of the show, although they’re small and quick. She is constantly managing the mood, context and timing of the musical, and really steals the show at the end.

Murder Ballad put the group in a hard spot, requiring rapidly aging characters to be played by college students without so much as a full costume change. If there’s one spot where the play lacks, it’s that the characters look and act like college students, even though they’re older, married and have a child.

What I find particularly amazing about the play is how interesting it was despite often being very topical. Despite the fact that many parts of the musical boiled down to archetypes and clichés, it was fresh and exciting. The moments that were expanded apart and new and inventive came at just the right time. There’s comfort in a vaguely familiar story, and they build off of that in a way that is exceptional.

Small theater is supposed to be lively, a little bit interactive, bold and engaging. Murder Ballad did just that.

Katie Sims is a freshman in the College of Engineering. She can be reached at [email protected].