Rock opera ‘Murder Ballad’ lures audience with lust, drama

Tom (Chris Crawford) and Sara (Blythe Gruda) rekindle their relationship in a passionate affair in “Murder Ballad.” The play revolves around a love triangle between the two and Sara’s husband, Michael (Mark Sander) that ends in a shocking murder and utilizes a new production style called immersive theatre.

Tom (Chris Crawford) and Sara (Blythe Gruda) rekindle their relationship in a passionate affair in “Murder Ballad.” The play revolves around a love triangle between the two and Sara’s husband, Michael (Mark Sander) that ends in a shocking murder and utilizes a new production style called immersive theatre.

Lust, desire and revenge are the powerful emotions that dominate the 80-minute rock opera “Murder Ballad,” playing at the Actors’ Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre through Nov. 2.

The explosive show revolves around the choices and actions made in relationships and the consequences people must live with. At the center of it all is Sara (Blythe Gruda) whose cozy life with her hard-working husband, Michael (Mark Sanders), and young daughter pales in comparison to the electric and forbidden passion of her youth, Tom (Chris Crawford.) A chance encounter leaves Sara reeling as she rekindles her old flame with Tom, embarking on a journey that ends in someone’s death.

In the fashion of a Greek tragedy, the Narrator sets up the beginning scene to preview what is to come and makes it clear: one will end up in the grave. But unlike any traditional musicals, this blasts to life with blaring drums and a rock opera sound.

The Narrator, University of Miami alumna Mariand Torres, sets the tone of the production as her sultry vocals kick off the show.

Utilizing “immersive theatre,” this production sits the audience in the heart of the action. There is no fourth wall, or any physical boundaries between the cast of four and the audience. The story takes place in the “King’s Club,” with the stage set with a pool table, a live band and tables for audience members to sit at, as well as a working bar. Before the show, guests could purchase drinks from the bar, further blurring the lines between set piece and functional space.

The cast used this set like a jungle gym, jumping on chairs, banging on tables and lounging on the pool table. The emotional distance between the characters was made tangible by the physically polarized placement of the characters throughout the show.

As can be imagined, this type of theatre experience produces challenges in the staging; however, the cast was masterfully guided by artistic directer David Arisco.

The love-triangle is embodied by a musical number among Michael, Sara, and Tom that uses intricate, sultry choreography to capture the back and forth of an affair. The constant movement did lead to the loss of plot subtleties, especially when the live band overpowered the singers.

The show is a cautionary tale, one that heightens the emotions people often try to conceal, which results in a surprising twist of fate. It leaves the audience wondering about the lengths to which they are often pushed, and just how far they would go in a relationship.

Students should not find the idea of a musical intimidating, because this play makes an effort to reflect contemporary life. The setting is casual, the situation of an affair the stuff of reality shows and the actors’ emotional range leaves audiences feeling confused, upset, curious and amused.

This new style of theatre is not to be missed, and Actors’ Playhouse should be acknowledged for pioneering this style in Miami. Exciting, fast-paced, sexy and thrilling, “Murder Ballad” will destroy any ideas students have of the classic musical and leave them pining for more of this immersive experience.

This article orginally appeared in The Miami Hurricane on Oct. 28, 2014.

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