Murder Ballad
A steamy exploration of the complications of love, the compromises we make and the betrayals that undo us.
Show Essentials
4
Roles
R
Rated
1
Act

Full Synopsis

A baseball bat is visible. The performers appear and introduce the context for the tale to come: a murder ballad that warns us of how easily this story could be our own ("Murder Ballad"). By the end, the bat has been stowed away, and the performers have morphed into their characters.

The Narrator now sets the scene. Sara and Tom were naive and reckless young lovers in New York City, trying to make it as a musician and an actor, respectively. They were completely wrapped up in each other ("Narrator 1"). After three years, they began to drift apart, and Tom suggested that Sara might regret spending her life with him. Heartbroken, Sara left him. As Sara drunkenly walks the city streets, she convinces herself that Tom meant nothing to her, that he was just a habit. He tells himself the same thing about her ("I Love NY"). They are glad to be rid of each other. Sara collides with Michael, who is getting a Ph.D. in poetry from NYU. He sees that she is a mess and walks her home ("Narrator 2").

Back at Sara's place, she comes on to Michael, but he doesn't want to take advantage of her. He starts to figure out what has happened to her... that she is recently heartbroken, depressed and in need of a friend ("Little by Little"). He calms her and tells her to slow down; he promises to be there for her and not to lie to her ("Trouble Mind"). Sara warns him about making such a promise, as she knows that promises are easily broken. Michael thinks she is not interested in him and says that he'll leave in the morning ("Promises"). Time passes, however, and Michael and Sara soon get married. Shortly thereafter, Sara becomes pregnant ("Narrator 3"). Everything is going right for Sara and Michael, and they continue to fall for each other more and more ("Turning into Beautiful").

Tom is still downtown, having given up his plans for fame ("Crying Scene Theme"). He decides that he is going to open up a club of his own and make a name for himself that way. Sara and Michael realize that a baby changes everything, and Michael leaves poetry to get an MBA ("I Love NY – Reprise / Narrator 4"). Sara and Michael's daughter, Frankie, is born and brings them joy. She grows quickly and is five years old before they know it. Michael and Sara have different views on where Frankie should go to school – public versus private – and it's clear that their priorities aren't entirely aligned. The Narrator points out that the hard part may just be starting for them ("Prattle 1 / Narrator 5").

Sara falls back into her depression. She tries to drag herself out of it – and out of bed – but that proves increasingly difficult ("Coffee's On"). Michael becomes frustrated with Sara's behavior and inability to do everything that Frankie needs because of her depression. The stagnation of her routine starts to weigh on Sara, and her thoughts turn to Tom and what her life was like back then. She looks Tom up and gives him a call ("Prattle 2"). The Narrator then explains that Tom had bought a bar downtown and is seeing someone new... someone who loved him more than he loved her. Although Tom swears to himself that seeing Sara doesn't mean anything, it's clear that it does ("Narrator 6"). At the bar, Tom waits for Sara, anticipating her coming back to him and regretting having ever left to begin with. But he tells himself that's foolish; he should know she's not going to erase her family and come be with him ("Sara"). When Sara finally arrives, she and Tom have a drink and it turns into something more ("Narrator 7"). When Sara leaves Tom, she is high from the excitement of the infidelity. Tom is also elated with having Sara back ("Mouth Tattoo"). Tom and Sara begin to have an affair, completely unbeknownst to their partners ("Narrator 8").

Back on the Upper West Side, Michael wrestles with the fact that he loves Sara, but that he can also tell that something is wrong ("Sugar Cubes & Rock Salt"). As Sara goes through her daily routine with Michael and Frankie, she thinks of Tom and longs for him ("Prattle 3"). Together again, Sara and Tom get wrapped up in the passion of their relationship ("My Name"). The Narrator comments on the double life that Sara is now leading, alluding to the false sense of glamour that this duplicity suggests; it's as if Sara is in a French movie ("The Crying Scene").

Michael tries to get Sara to spend some time with him – he'll take the day off, and they can spend the day in bed. She refuses, reminding him that they have responsibilities; meanwhile, Tom waits for her ("Coffee's On – Reprise"). Sara feels caught between the two men in her life, and the thrill of Tom begins to wear off. As Tom and Michael both yearn for her more, Sara realizes that she is done with Tom ("Built for Longing"). Sara arrives at Tom's, ready to say goodbye. Tom doesn't want to let her go. Meanwhile, Frankie is sick and Michael calls Sara repeatedly, trying to get ahold of her ("Answer Me"). Tom tries to make Sara stay, but she forcefully breaks free. Tom still insists that he and Sara are meant to be together, but she leaves him ("You Belong to Me"). The Narrator asks Sara which lie she will tell her husband about where she has been ("Narrator 9").

As Sara apologizes to Frankie for not having been there when she was sick, Michael and she both hope that everything will turn out alright ("Troubled Mind – Reprise"). Still, Tom refuses to let Sara go ("I Love NY – Reprise 2"). He shows up at Central Park when Sara is there with Michael and Frankie... just as Sara imagines that this is the moment when she is getting her life back on track ("Prattle 4"). When Tom approaches Sara, he threatens that he will be with her no matter where she goes ("I'll Be There"). Michael appears and introduces himself to Tom; it's clear to him that something is wrong as Sara tries to get them to leave ("Prattle 5"). When Tom leaves, Michael angrily confronts Sara about Tom – he knows the reality of their relationship ("Little By Little – Reprise").

Sara and Michael are broken by her infidelity and the crumbling of their relationship ("Narrator 10"). In Tom's bar, Michael waits for Tom with rage in his heart. Meanwhile, Sara and Tom also head toward the bar with a plan to get even – she with Tom, he with Michael ("You Belong to Me – Reprise"). The Narrator explains that all of them had deadly intentions that night. When Tom enters the bar, she points out that all the ladies loved him and insists that we would understand her better if he had turned his eye on us ("Crying Scene – Reprise"). The Narrator reveals that she was working in the bar and, when Tom, Sara and Michael converged on the scene, she slipped into the background ("Narrator 11"). The love triangle confrontation comes to a head as Sara begs Michael to come back to her... to forgive her... to let her apologize, rather than killing Tom ("Walk Away / Promises – Reprise").

After Tom and Sara leave, the Narrator grabs the baseball bat. Tom has erased her. He has forgotten about her and betrayed her; she is the woman he was cheating on with Sara. He says that he's sorry, but he never loved her. This is unacceptable. She beats Tom to death with the bat ("Clubs and Diamonds / Prattle 6"). Back on the Upper West Side, Sara and Michael sit at their table and read in the New York Post about an unsolved murder at Tom's bar. The Narrator smiles.

The actors peel themselves out of their characters. This was only a tale... an ancient tradition of songs, more black than blue; it is only thrilling and delicious if it's a cautionary tale. It's "entertainment" as long as it doesn't happen to you ("Finale").

Casting

Casting

Cast Size: Small (Up to 10 performers)
Cast Type: Ensemble Cast
Dance Requirements: None

Character Breakdown

Narrator
The storyteller providing all the transitions between the various scenes and occasionally speaking for the characters themselves. Philisophical, poetic, and a little opinionated.
Gender: female
Age: 20 to 55
Vocal range top: E5
Vocal range bottom: F3
Sara
Once Tom's lover, she is an ambitious starving artist and musician. Initially depressed and jaded towards men after a sordid relationship. Michael helps her find happiness again through their marriage. She ends up straying from the marriage.
Gender: female
Age: 30 to 40
Vocal range top: E5
Vocal range bottom: E3
Michael
A poetry PhD who Sara elicits and her eventual husband. Sweet and calming, he is willing to provide nothing but the best for those he loves. He shows how cold he can become when he finds out about Sarah's affair.
Gender: male
Age: 35 to 45
Vocal range top: A4
Vocal range bottom: F#2
Tom
Sara's first lover and an ambitious starving artist and actor. His alcoholism, constant affairs, and general selfishness put a strain on his relationships. He becomes obsessed and stalker-like in his mannerisms toward Sara.
Gender: male
Age: 35 to 45
Vocal range top: F#4
Vocal range bottom: G2
Full Song List
Murder Ballad: Murder Ballad
Murder Ballad: Narrator 1
Murder Ballad: I Love NY
Murder Ballad: Narrator 2
Murder Ballad: Little by Little
Murder Ballad: Troubled Mind
Murder Ballad: Promises
Murder Ballad: Narrator 3
Murder Ballad: Turning Into Beautiful
Murder Ballad: Crying Scene Theme
Murder Ballad: I Love NY - Reprise 1/Narrator 4
Murder Ballad: Prattle 1/Narrator 5
Murder Ballad: Coffee's On
Murder Ballad: Prattle 2
Murder Ballad: Narrator 6
Murder Ballad: Sara
Murder Ballad: Narrator 7
Murder Ballad: Mouth Tattoo
Murder Ballad: Narrator 8
Murder Ballad: Sugar Cubes & Rock Salt
Murder Ballad: Prattle 3
Murder Ballad: My Name
Murder Ballad: The Crying Scene
Murder Ballad: Coffee's On - Reprise
Murder Ballad: Built for Longing
Murder Ballad: Answer Me
Murder Ballad: You Belong to Me
Murder Ballad: Narrator 9
Murder Ballad: Troubled Mind - Reprise
Murder Ballad: I Love NY - Reprise 2
Murder Ballad: Prattle 4
Murder Ballad: I'll Be There
Murder Ballad: Prattle 5
Murder Ballad: Little by Little - Reprise
Murder Ballad: Narrator 10
Murder Ballad: You Belong to Me - Reprise
Murder Ballad: Crying Scene - Reprise
Murder Ballad: Narrator 11
Murder Ballad: Walk Away/Promises - Reprise
Murder Ballad: Clubs and Diamonds/Prattle 6
Murder Ballad: Finale

Show History

Inspiration

Murder Ballad is an original, sung-through musical conceived by Jonathan Larson Award winner and two-time Susan Smith Blackburn Prize finalist, Julia Jordan. Jordan also wrote the book and some lyrics for the musical with noted indie singer/songwriter, Julia Nash.

The title is taken from the phrase, "murder ballad," a type of song that describes the details of a crime, from the murderer to the motive and to the act itself. Jordan, initially a playwright, was interested in taking her idea of a murderous love triangle and turning it into a rock musical. She approached Nash, who had never written a musical before and was inspired by the dark narrative qualities of the music.

Productions

Murder Ballad premiered at the Manhattan Theatre Club's The Studio at Stage II. It ran from November 15, 2012, to December 16, 2012, featuring performances by Rebecca Naomi Jones, Karen Olivo and Will Swenson. Following the sold-out run, the musical transferred Off-Broadway to the Union Square Theatre. The production opened May 7, 2013, and closed on July 21, 2013, after 70 regular performances.

Trivia

  • Murder Ballad earned both an Outer Critics Circle Award nomination for Outstanding Off-Broadway Musical and a Drama League Award nomination for Outstanding Production of a Musical. It was also nominated for five Lucille Lortel awards.

Critical Reaction

"This steamy show is a love triangle with a razor's edges. The show features taut, tart, and pungent lyrics by Julia Jordan and Juliana Nash."
– The New York Times

"A hot night of theatre! With an energy that is electric, this show is going to get young people to the theater in reams."
– Backstage Magazine

"Not only does Nash's driving rock score employ specific musical vernaculars for each of the characters, it periodically allows them to adopt others' styles to suit their purposes."
– TheatreMania

"A solid, well-crafted effort that revarnishes the old love-triangle premise. Juliana Nash's muscular-yet-melodic score uses rock better than most musicals."
– New York Post

Connect

Billing

Requirements

You must give the authors/creators billing credits, as specified in the Production Contract, in a conspicuous manner on the first page of credits in all programs and on houseboards, displays and in all other advertising announcements of any kind.
Percentages listed indicate required type size in relation to title size.
MURDER BALLAD
(100%)
 
Conceived by and with book and lyrics by JULIA JORDAN
(50%)
 
Music and Lyrics by JULIANA NASH
(50%)
 
The following credits shall be included among designer credits on title page:
"Orchestrations and Vocal Arrangements by Justin Levine"
(15%)
 
The following credits shall appear on the bottom of the title page of all programs in a size not less than 15% of the size of the title of the Play:
Originally presented Off-Broadway by
MTC Productions INC., Niclas Nagler, Richard Frankel, Tom Viertel, Steven
Baruch, Marc Routh, Simone Genatt Haft, Susanne Adamski, Scott M. Delman
 
Originally presented by New York Stage and Film Company and The Powerhouse
Theater at Vassar in July, 2012.
 
Originally produced in New York City by the Manhattan Theatre Club, Lynne
Meadow, Artistic Director, Barry Grove, Executive Producer on October 31, 2012

Video Warning

If you purchase a separate license to allow non-commercial video recording of this production, you must print the following in your program. ANY VIDEO RECORDING MADE OF THIS PERFORMANCE IS AUTHORIZED FOR PERSONAL, AT-HOME, NON-COMMERCIAL USE ONLY. THE SALE OR DISTRIBUTION OF SUCH RECORDING IS STRICTLY PROHIBITED UNDER FEDERAL COPYRIGHT LAW. If you do not purchase the separate license for video recording, you must print the following in your program. The videotaping or other video or audio recording of this production is strictly prohibited

Included Materials

ItemQuantity Included
LIBRETTO/VOCAL BOOK8
PIANO VOCAL SCORE2

Production Resources

Resource
LOGO PACK
LOGO PACK DIGITAL
PRODUCTIONPRO
REFERENCE RECORDING
TRANSPOSITIONS-ON-DEMAND
VIDEO LICENSE

STANDARD ORCHESTRATION

InstrumentationDoubling
DRUMS
ELECTRIC BASS
GUITARELECTRIC GUITAR , MANDOLIN
PIANO CONDUCTOR'S SCOREACOUSTIC GUITAR , KEYBOARD