A local downtown bar is going to be the scene of a staged murder when the off-Broadway musical Murder Ballad opens this October in Hood River. This four-character show, which opened off-Broadway in 2013, is coming to Hood River’s River City Saloon, courtesy CGOA Stages and director Mark Steighner. As the lyrics of the opening song suggest, “someone’s gonna die,” and it’s up to the audience to guess who the unlucky victim will be.
While the original New York production transformed a theatre into a seedy dive bar–befitting the sordid tale — the CGOA performances will take place in a real saloon – River City in Hood River. “Everyone is really excited to do the show there. It will be up-close and personal and the ambiance is absolutely perfect.” River City is creating a special Murder Ballad drink for the occassion and is allowing the cast to rehearse off hours in the bar.
From Tom Dooley to Jimi Hendrix’s Hey Joe, songs of cheating lovers and their violent demise have spawned an entire genre of folk and popular music called “murder ballads.” Murder ballads aren’t uniquely American but since they combine sex, violence, and a lot of personal drama, they have become a staple of American blues and folk artists. And now, we have the musical Murder Ballad, a rock opera that is set in the here-and-now but deals with themes and a story as old as the first tale of cheatin’ hearts.
“The audience knows going in that this is a story about an unfaithful lover and violent retribution,” said Steighner. “But the hook is the question, who really deserves it, and who is going to figuratively pull the trigger? If we do our job right, you can make a case for any of the characters.” Local actors Michelle Firsching, Luke Firsching, Emily Vawter and Tommy Fliss sing their way through a 90 minute score that truly rocks, unlike many so-called “rock operas.”
Steighner said that the writers of Murder Ballad — Juliana Jordan (book) and Julia Nash (music and lyrics) come from the world of rock and roll. Some of the songs were re-purposed from the composer’s rock band. Although the songs have a very wide range of pop styles, they’re not the usual middle-of-the-road Broadway rock songs but have an authentic feel. In a recent interview, Nash said she was originally inspired by the album “Murder Ballads” by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and the song “Psycho” by Elvis Costello.
The stage band of Steighner (keyboards), Dennis Castanares (guitar), Paul Thompson (bass) and Michel Grodner/Jason Hartmann (drums) has had a great time playing the songs.
Steighner said that although the show has no explicit content, it does contain some strong language and adult situations. Minors are permitted but will need to purchase food to be in compliance with River City’s licensing.
Murder Ballad runs October 3,5,6,10,11,12,13 at 7 PM. The show has an approximate running time of 80 minutes with no intermission. Bar service will be available before and after the performance. Tickets are $20 adults ($15 for CGOA members), $5 youth ages 10-18, and free for kids under 10 (though the show isn’t really recommended for kids). Seating is limited. Tickets are available in advance through gorgeorchestra.org
And for those who want a sneak preview, the cast and band is offering up some of their favorite songs from Murder Ballad on Wednesday, September 25th at 64 Taphouse. The preview night will be free, and music starts around 7PM.
More information and interviews with the cast and production team are available on the CGOA Podcast (gorgeorchestra.org/Podcast or search for CGOA Podcast on Spotify)