Julia Jordan and Juliana Nash

Murder Ballad

June 17 - July 3
Ivy Tech Waldron Auditorium

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Murder meets music

Murder most foul makes theater most fun

By Devyn Blandford 
June 11, 2016

Cardinal Stage Company’s “Murder Ballad,” directed by Randy White, will hit the stage Saturday in the Waldron auditorium. The story centers around four characters — Sara, Michael, Tom and the narrator — and the dramas and traumas that ultimately lead to love and murder.

“Murder Ballad” is a relatively new production, which is a step in a different direction for Cardinal Stage. Debuting in 2013, this show was an off-Broadway hit that’s now made its way to Bloomington. For those seeking an unconventional theater experience, this drama breaks tradition in more ways than one.

“Murder Ballad” is immersive. The audience does not sit in a long row of seats, set back from the scene. Instead, the musical takes place, for the most part, in a bar. This leaves room for a certain amount of creativity when it comes to seating and audience arrangement. The Waldron’s modular nature makes it the perfect venue.

Audience members are, in this way, transformed from passive outsiders to patrons in the very bar where the musical is taking place. They sit along the bar during the show, and can order drinks before the show and during intermission. A live band, part of the set, will also be there for entertainment. The audience essentially becomes like a set of extras in the production, lending it an added sense of reality.

This musical is also a sung-through musical, meaning that if someone has seen “Les Mis,” it’s kind of like that. Except with rock music. There is no part of Murder Ballad that’s spoken — even the narrator sings every line.

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Randy White, director, conducts a dress and technical rehearsal of “Murder Ballad” at the Ivy Tech Waldron Auditorium. Chris Howell | Herald-Times

Though he has experience with sung-through theater under his belt, Donterrio Johnson, the actor playing Michael McCrae, admits that “Murder Ballad” is a challenging show to sing.

“My character sings all over the scale. With the show being entirely sung, we have to be careful in how we sing the show every night. In a show with spoken lines you have a chance to rest your vocal chords, but singing for 90 minutes straight is strenuous work for any vocalist,” says Johnson in an email.

Annelise Cepero, who plays the part of the Narrator, indicates that sung-through has its own unique perk, though. “It’s actually a lot easier to memorize songs than it is to memorize lines,” said Cepero.

The Narrator in Murder Ballad plays an unusual role, compared to narrators in other productions. In a strange way, the narrator is almost friends with the audience. Though Cepero couldn’t say much about her role, for fear of revealing anything important, she says that the audience will definitely be aware of her presence.

Murder Ballad promises to be an intriguing production. Immersive theater is perhaps only one reason one may decide to catch this show, but the compelling characters, romance, and not to mention murder will be sure to make this a stand-out performance this year. Come for the story and the drinks, but stay for the stunning resolution.

Murder Ballad runs June 17 through July 3. Tickets can be purchased at www.cardinalstage.org. Get your tickets before they sell out – it’ll be a killer of a show.