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A killer cast rescue this messy rock musical
There’s not much murder and nary a ballad in ‘Murder Ballad’, a new sung-through musical with sexy aspirations befitting its soft-rock score. The storyline is a classic: young family torn apart by an ex-lover, cheating begets fury, tale takes a dark turn.
The trouble is that Julia Jordan and Juliana Nash’s musical is barely exciting enough to fill an episode of ‘EastEnders’, let alone a 90-minute stage show. Fortunately the superb cast carries it – all four of them have captivating singing voices and do a great job of keeping the rock vocals in check, only dialling it up to eleven for a choice chorus or two. The music is great (especially considering how difficult it is to write a rock musical that’s not unforgivably lame), and the on-stage but mostly hidden live band smashed their unbroken 90-minute set as if they’d interned with The E Street Band. The lyrics did let it down, though, thanks mostly to rhymes that would be laughable coming from a teenage busker (‘Don’t be a hero/I like ’em bad, like De Niro’).
So what is it that makes Sam Yates’s production worth a watch? The girls. Kerry Ellis is unsurprisingly excellent; the woman who took over from Idina Menzel in ‘Wicked’ has quite the way with cramming subtlety and emotion into even the most enormous vocal parts. But it’s Victoria Hamilton-Barritt who really nails it. She brings all the sultry, ‘Chicago’-style menace that you expect from a musical that promises murder and dresses its entire cast in boots, and her voice is effortlessly attention-grabbing.
‘Murder Ballad’ is a weak musical, even with its musical-meta mentions of famous plot clichés and a bizarre final song that was not the clever knowing wink it aimed to be, but you needn’t run scared of this production: as performances go, they killed it.