Within recent productions, the Arts Theatre, located just off Leicester Square, has become the central venue for exploring the more ‘risky’ musicals. With a small 350-seat capacity but still being in the heart of Theatreland, this venue is able to put on lesser-known, but just as impressive, shows whilst still having a chance to draw in the audience size it needs to survive. One of the big successes of the Arts recently has been the production of American Idiot – which has seen a few revivals and has even gone off to tour in the past two years. It is no surprise that the Arts are attempting another rock-styled musical.
So now The Arts have put on a show they believe is worth taking the risk. Murder Ballad, written by award-winner Julia Jordan and singer-songwriter Juliana Nash, may not be as well known outside of the musical theatre industry, but with its past off-Broadway success everyone involved is hoping that they could recreate this in London.
Murder Ballad, for the most part, is a four-actor musical to which we are presented with the talents of four incredibly accomplished performers – Kerry Ellis (Wicked, Cats), Ramin Karimloo (Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera), Victoria Hamilton-Barrett (In the Heights) and Norman Bowman (Finding Neverland). Based in New York City, we follow Sara (Ellis), Tom (Karimloo) and Michael (Bowman) into a complicated love triangle, whilst narrated by Hamilton-Barrett. The opening number addresses the title of the musical and reveals that one of these three will die in the end – and the audience is watching throughout wondering who it will be. The show is set up as an epic romance of love, lust and eventual loss but unfortunately does not accomplish the level of tension it is expecting to create.
The set is a pretty much a blank canvas with projections in strips across the back when appropriate. Every now and again the back set moves to reveal the band. The set unfortunately, doesn’t do much for the show and the projections sometimes unintentionally distract from the actors.
Direction is unfortunately lacking too – the set changes, spacing, musical direction and storyline come off as monotone throughout. There is never really a change of pace and the show relies on the constant tension of ‘what’s going to happen? who’s going to die?’ that it should’ve supposedly created in the beginning.
On a lighter note, the vocal talents of the leading four can keep focus throughout this 90-minute production. Kerry Ellis delivers what is expected and fans, I’m sure, will be most pleased – though within the first twenty minutes she showcases everything she can and doesn’t give much character development from there. Karimloo and Bowman’s talents are underused and this is due to the lack of depth of their characters. Karimloo plays the more rough and bad-boy personality whilst Bowman plays the more upscale, successful gentleman. That is it and unfortunately with nothing more than a developing jealousy, these characters stay frustratingly as they are.
The absolute highlight of the show is Hamilton-Barrett’s performance as the narrator. She exudes a charisma and vocal talent that whenever she is on stage, your focus is drawn in with anticipation and excitement.
Without spoiling, the ending is predictable and unapologetically abrupt. In the final ten minutes, it feels like a different show and the final number departs in a different musical style to what we’ve been watching for the past hour and a half. You’re so taken aback, you feel like the show deserves the clapping along that its asking for.
Murder Ballad will give the strong musical theatre enthusiasts the star-fix they require but unfortunately, not much more can be taken from this production. I leave still not really knowing what kind of show it wanted to be. The characters are majorly underdeveloped and the show tries to create a dark and deep tension that it gets nowhere near to accomplishing. The show currently seems like it falls into the ‘new-age’ musicals that actually have not much to say or share apart from vocal talents. It’s a shame. There is something there, but definitely not at the moment.
Review by Tomm Ingram
Don’t miss the UK premiere of Murder Ballad, London’s hottest new rock musical of love, obsession and murderous desire as it makes a strictly limited, star-packed run at London’s Arts Theatre this autumn.
Starring West End and Broadway legends Kerry Ellis (Wicked, Cats) and Ramin Karimloo (The Phantom of the Opera, Les Misérables), Murder Ballad is the tale of Sara, Tom and Michael, three New Yorkers caught in a secret love triangle that could tear their lives apart.
Written by the award-winning Julia Jordan with unforgettable sung-through music and lyrics by singer-songwriter Juliana Nash, Murder Ballad also stars Victoria Hamilton-Barritt (Flashdance, In the Heights) and Norman Bowman (Finding Neverland).
Don’t miss this incredible opportunity to see the biggest stars of musical theatre up close in a wonderfully intimate venue in the heart of the West End. This is a boldly brilliant new musical with a razor-sharp tale of modern relationships in the big city.
Murder Ballad runs for a strictly limited season until 3rd December 2016
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