MURDER BALLAD “Electrifies” Critics at the Union Square Theatre

Photo by Joan Marcus

MURDER BALLAD opened last night at the Union Square Theatre (100 East 17th Street). Below is a sampling of some of the early reviews for MURDER BALLAD:


“New York City safety codes do not permit the nightly building of campfires at the Union Square Theater. Yet I can’t think of a better place to indulge in the venerable summer tradition of listening in the dark to tales told before bedtime, the kind that sate the spirit even as they rouse curiosity. Murder Ballad exists to deliver a story that teases, grips, and ultimately satisfies audiences. The adept performers including John Ellison Conlee, Rebecca Naomi Jones, Caissie Levy, and Will Swenson, always propel and enrich the stories they have to relate. In doing so, they remind us of the richness of human invention that goes into unspooling a cracking good yarn. Some lucky theatergoers are in the path of the show’s wandering characters, who make love and war with stylized abandon. So we, the audience, may feel more implicated in the show’s crime of passion than we do watching or reading accounts of such murders. Guilty pleasure, indeed.

- Ben Brantley, New York Times *CRITIC’S PICK*


“I love you, I hate you, I’ll kill you. That’s the lurid premise of Murder Ballad, the hot and sticky musical that steams up the Union Square Theatre with its violent tabloid tale of illicit love, lust, and betrayal. Rebecca Naomi Jones gives a scorching show-stopping performance while Will Swenson and Caissie Levy declare their crazy-mad love for one another with bruising passion and great pipes. John Ellison Conlee melts Levy’s heart in a well-grounded performance. Every element of the production, including the Mark Wendland’s set and Jessica Pabst’s costumes, advance the story and contribute to the impact of the performances. Everything clicks in helmer Trip Cullman’s model production.

- Marilyn Stasio, Variety


The tale of a doomed love triangle is told through a succession of driving rock songs, whose glory is their whip-smart lyrics, a collaboration of Julia Jordan and Juliana Nash.

- Robert Feldberg, The Record


“Featuring muscular-yet-melodic score by Juliana Nash, Murder Ballad is satisfying in the elemental way of a good yarn. And it ends with a fun twist that makes you wonder just how many sides there are to a love triangle.”

- Elisabeth Vincentelli, New York Post

Violence has never seemed as sexy as it does in Murder Ballad, Juliana Nash and Julia Jordan’s exceedingly well-done new musical directed by Trip Cullman in a steamy, energizing production.

Mark Wendland’s downtown dive bar atmosphere has a uniquely gritty allure allowing the four actors to weave in and out of cabaret tables that litter the playing area, singing and dancing in the aisles. Ben Stanton provides the authentic and disorienting lighting, which project some beautiful shadows of Doug Varone’s athletic musical choreography, and Thomas Schall’s authentic fight choreography onto the theater’s ceiling.

John Ellison Conlee, Rebecca Naomi Jones, and Will Swenson repeat the roles they created uptown, and their work has only sharpened over time. New to the company is Caissie Levy. With a voice to kill for and a body to die for, especially in Jessica Pabst’s form-fitting costumes, Levy fits right into this grimy world, infusing Sara with the perfect amount of innocence and true inner conflict. Juliana Nash has crafted a first-rate rock score, filled with memorable melodies played by a tight on-stage band of four led by orchestrator Justin Levine. Like the best mysteries, Murder Ballad leaves you guessing until the very last note.

- David Gordon, Theatermania

MURDER BALLAD features John Ellison Conlee, Rebecca Naomi Jones, Caissie Levy, and Will Swenson. The musical is conceived by Jonathan Larson Award winner and two-time Susan Smith Blackburn Prize finalist Julia Jordan with book and lyrics by Jordan and music and lyrics by indie rock singer/songwriter Juliana Nash. Drama Desk Award nominee Trip Cullman (Paul Weitz’s Lonely, I’m Not; Adam Bock’s A Small Fire) directs.

A love triangle gone wrong, MURDER BALLAD centers on Sara, an Upper West Sider who seems to have it all, but whose downtown past lingers enticingly and dangerously in front of her. This sexy, explosive new musical explores the complications of love, the compromises we make, and the betrayals that can ultimately undo us.

A theatrical experience not to be missed, the Union Square Theatre has been completely redesigned to accommodate the immersive staging for MURDER BALLAD. Tickets holders are invited into the theatre 30 minutes before show time to tour the set, mingle, and “grab a beer, get a table, and make like you’re at a rock concert,” (Time Out New York).

The creative team for MURDER BALLAD includes: Mark Wendland (scenic design), Jessica Pabst (costume design), Ben Stanton (lighting design), Leon Rothenberg (sound design), Doug Varone (choreography), and Justin Levine (music director, vocal arranger and orchestrator).

MURDER BALLAD is produced at the Union Square Theatre by Manhattan Theatre Club Productions, Inc.; Niclas Nagler; Richard Frankel; Tom Viertel; Steven Baruch; Marc Routh; Simone Genatt Haft; Susanne Adamski; and Scott M. Delman.

The world premiere recording of MURDER BALLAD will be released on Tuesday, May 28 on Yellow Sound Label. The album, produced by Michael Croiter, will be available on Amazon, iTunes, and elsewhere music is sold. For additional information and to pre-order the world premiere cast recording, visit:

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