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'Murder Ballad': A fun cautionary tale

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TUTS Underground shakes things up with their new production "Murder Ballad", which premiered last night at the Hobby Center. Audiences can arrive early and stay after the production to enjoy some drinks and the nice, cool evening air. The stage is equipped with a fully functional bar and the audience is encouraged to browse around the stage before the show, even play pool should they want.

With a few tables on the stage, the four member cast is scattered around the stage intermixed with the audience. “Murder Ballad” puts the performers right in your face to make audiences feel like they are a part of the production. This show marks a first for the TUTS and TUTS Underground stage since it is the first that has been entirely conceived and created by women. Julia Jordan wrote the book and lyrics for the show while Juliana Nash did the music and lyrics.

“Murder Ballad” tells a story as old as time, it seems, the love triangle of a woman torn between two men. Although this musical takes a darker and deadlier turn, as the title suggests. As you read from the playbill, a murder ballad is “a form of the tradition ballad in which the lyrics describe the events of a murder, usually including the lead-up and/or aftermath.” From the onset, the audience knows these characters are not headed for a happy, fairy tale ending.

This show has equal gender power with two leading ladies and two male leads. Lauren Molina ("Sweeney Todd" on the Houston stage) plays Sara, a woman who after her bad boy phrase finds a good man to settle down with and start a family until the “one that got away” comes back to shake up her world. Kristin Warren (at TUTS seen in shows "Man of La Mancha", "Guys & Dolls" as well as others) plays the narrator, which gives the audience necessary clues and insights for the story that unfolds. Both women are powerhouses with outstanding voices and desperate passion that brings their characters to life.

Steel Burkhardt (Berger in "Hair" on Broadway) stars as Tom, the good husband and father who suddenly finds his world turned upside down after learning the truth about his wife. Pat McRoberts (Chris in "Miss Saigon" on Broadway) stars as Michael, the bad boy and overly passionate lover of Sara, who once he gets her back in his life, refuses to let her go. Both male leads have very different dynamics on stage. Audiences feel for Tom as they see him being the man any woman would want to be married too. On the other hand, any lady would have a hard time ignoring or denying the temptation that Michael creates for our lonely and stagnant Sara. As each cast member belts out their lyrics they amaze both with their power and beauty as well as their flawless harmonies.

“Murder Ballad” offers a good time for everyone with action, drama, humor and some amazing musical performances. Like all musicals, they would be nothing without the instrumental talent. Jack Beetle is the musical director and conductor for the rock group on stage. Director Bruce Lumpkin and choreographer Michelle Gaudette used the unique stage set up to their advantage. This musical hinges on the audience ability to feel like they are a part of the production and all of the elements worked together perfectly to create just the right atmosphere for a hit.

An experience you will be sorry to miss, “Murder Ballad” plays now through April 27th in the Hobby Center’s Zikha Hall. For tickets, visit TUTSUnderground.com, call 713-558-TUTS (8887) or 888-558-3882 if you are outside the HOusotn area, or in person at the Theatre Under the Stars Box Office, located at 800 Bagby at Walker, Monday-Friday 10 am-6 pm or Saturday-Sunday 11 am-4 pm. For information about other upcoming shows and to preview the upcoming 2014-2015 TUTS season visit tuts.com.

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