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Theatre / Murder Ballad

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From left to right: Michael (John Ellison Conlee), Sara (Caissie Levy), Tom (Will Swenson), the Narrator (Rebecca Naomi Jones).
There’s always a killer
So logically, someone has to die.
We sing the murder ballad’s warning;
There but for the grace of God, go I...
— “Murder Ballad”

‘’Murder Ballad’’, with book and lyrics by Julia Jordan and music and lyrics by Juliana Nash, is a Sung-Through Musical that centers around a woman named Sara who grows dissatisfied with her Upper West Side life and pines for her rougher past, and a love triangle that — as the title would imply — ends in tragedy.

It had two Off-Broadway runs: one at Manhattan Theatre Club's Stage II in 2012 (which spawned a cast recording), then at the Union Square Theatre in 2013. The casting was the same in both productions, with the exception of Caissie Levy replacing Karen Olivo as Sara in the 2013 production.

Not to be confused with the song form or the Nick Cave album.


This show provides examples of:

  • The Alcoholic: Implied by Tom in "I Love NY": "It's 2 AM, I'm drunk again/It's 3 AM, I'm drunk again/It's 4 AM, it's 4 AM, it's 4 AM..."
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Sara with Tom.
  • All-Knowing Singing Narrator
  • Arc Words: "Clubs and diamonds, spades and hearts..."
  • Anyone Can Die: "A king, a queen, a club, a knave. One is destined for the grave…"
  • Ax-Crazy: Or bat-crazy, as is the case with the Narrator.
  • Batter Up!: The Narrator beats Tom to death with a baseball bat.
  • Betty and Veronica: Michael is the Betty to Tom’s Veronica.
  • Black Gal on White Guy Drama: In the original production, Tom was played by the white Will Swenson, while the Narrator was played by the black Rebecca Naomi Jones.
  • BSoD Song: “Little By Little Reprise” for Michael. “You Belong To Me” for Sara and Tom. “Clubs and Diamonds” for the Narrator.
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  • Cock Fight: A slight variation, given that when it goes down at King’s Club, Sara is also an active participant.
  • Commitment Issues: Tom. At least at first…
  • Curtain Call: “Finale.”
  • Dark Reprise: "Little By Little Reprise"
  • Death of the Hypotenuse: Tom’s death solves both Love Triangles.
  • Destructive Romance: Tom and Sara.
  • Developing Doomed Characters: The show opens with a promise that one of the characters will die. Before that happens, though, we spend a solid hour and a half getting to know them.
  • First Love: Sara and Tom continue to pine for each other, even after not seeing each other for years and each being in serious relationships with other people.
  • Foreshadowing
    • The synopsis of the show makes mention that a baseball bat is given prominence before the opening number. Take a wild guess what the Narrator winds up killing Tom with.
    • The Narrator harmonizing with Sara during "Prattle 2" is the first hint that she's more than just an observer in the story.
    • There's also this lyric from "Narrator 6":
    The Narrator: He had someone to come home to
    Who loved him more than he knew...
  • The Gentleman or the Scoundrel: Michael is the Gentleman. Tom is the Scoundrel.
  • Hell Is That Noise: The strange tape-static loop that opens the show.
  • Let's Duet: Sara has two: "Turning Into Beautiful" with Michael, and "Mouth Tattoo" with Tom.
  • List Song: “Murder Ballad” references many famous murder ballads.
  • Location Song: Three of them, all called "I Love NY".
  • Love Triangle: Tom, Sara, and Michael. Also, Sara, Tom, and the Narrator.
  • Meaningful Background Event: During "The Crying Scene", Tom can be seen pushing the Narrator aside in order to get at Sara. This hints towards the nature of their relationship.
  • The Missus and the Ex: “Prattle 5”
  • Motifs: For the Narrator, playing cards ("Clubs and diamonds, spades and hearts"). For Sara, movies.
  • Murder Ballad: The entire show, but more specifically “Clubs and Diamonds”.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: In connection with Death of the Hypotenuse above, the Narrator killing Tom resolves not one but two Love Triangles.
  • The One That Got Away: Said word-for-word by Tom in “Sara”.
  • One-Woman Song: "Sara".
  • Please Don't Leave Me: Tom in “Answer Me.”
  • Properly Paranoid: "Sugar Cubes and Rock Salt" has Michael fretting over the state of his marriage with Sara, and for good reason, as it turns out.
  • Psycho Ex-Girlfriend: Tom and the Narrator.
  • Quarreling Song: "Answer Me"
  • Recurring Riff: The Narrator and Prattle songs share a basic structure, but the actual composition of each varies from song to song.
  • The Reveal: Not only was the Narrator Tom’s girlfriend, who he neglected during his affair with Sara, but she killed him.
  • Sanity Slippage Song: "I'll Be There" can be this for Tom, depending on how it's played.
  • Sliding Scale of Comedy and Horror: Towards the end of the original production, thanks to Rebecca Naomi Jones’ snarky performance as the Narrator.
  • Sliding Scale of Free Will vs. Fate: “Free will and fate both play their parts…”
  • The Song Before the Storm: “You Belong To Me Reprise”
  • Stalker with a Crush: Tom becomes this after Sara ends their affair.
  • Starving Artist: Sara and Tom trying to make it work as these may be the root cause of their separation.
  • Sung-Through Musical
  • Surprisingly Sudden Death: After building up to it for an hour and a half, the preparation for and act of the murder take 25 seconds from start to finish.
  • The Killer in Me: The Narrator was the killer all along.
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: A working knowledge of the French New Wave makes "The Crying Scene" a particularly interesting number, especially as it draws a comparison between the show's love triangle and that of the triangle in Jules and Jim.
  • Voice Types: Sara's a mezzo-soprano, the Narrator's an alto, Michael's a tenor, and Tom's a baritone.
  • Your Cheating Heart: The central conflict of the show. Two cases of it.

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