This week we had the opportunity to attend a rehearsal of the upcoming West End musical Murder Ballad which stars Kerry Ellis, Ramin Karimloo, Victoria Hamilton-Barritt and Norman Bowman. Arriving in London following a critically acclaimed run off-Broadway, it is described a "razor-sharp tale of modern relationships, abandoned dreams and treachery in the big city".
Featuring a fresh and original rock score by the award-winning Julia Jordan and singer-songwriter Juliana Nash, Murder Ballad provides a unique opportunity to see these incredible West End stars perform in an intimate and challenging new environment.
As we were welcomed into the rehearsal by director Sam Yates the company, which included Natalie McQueen (alternate Sara and Cover Narrator) and Matthew Harvey (cover Michael and Tom) were gathered at the piano being put through their paces by musical director by Sean Green. Described as a "visceral and intense 90 minutes", Sam Yates introduced the story of the show, commenting that each character goes on a "massive journey in an hour and half".
Commending the cast that have been assembled for the production, he suggested that each of them were "doing things that are different to what they're known for." As he talked about the relevance of the show, he commented that there has been a "groundswell for musicals that are non-traditional and are smaller with slightly different content." He spoke about the New York production, saying that off-Broadway the show "got people" for being quite different, and was confident that it would be similar in London.
Following the brief rehearsal, the cast each spoke about what drew them to the production and why they thought it was an exciting challenge. "I saw it off-Broadway when I was over there", explained Ramin, "it was very different to what we're doing, but just as enjoyable. I remember thinking 'this is cool'...I just loved the story. I'm excited that it's here finally."
Kerry Ellis commented on how the intimacy of the show was very different for her as a musical theatre and stadium performer. "For me personally it's so unusual to be in this type of space. Usually I'm in shows with lots of costume, make up and set, this is an exposed, raw environment...it's very new and exciting. There's not a lot of this around at the moment - it's almost like a sung through play, about real people and real situations....I think people will be quite shocked to see what we bring."
Victoria Hamilton-Barritt echoed Ellis' comment about performing at the Arts Theatre saying that "it's always nice to be able to see the audience...My role in this as narrator, I'm telling the story, so I think it'll work really well in this space."
Ellis admitted that the role was certainly a challenge, which was part of the reason why she accepted the job. "Part of me doing this job is to put myself in a scary position and do something new. I'm just glad to be able to work on something new. It's kind of scary..."
Murder Ballad is certainly a unique musical, and the creative team struggled to compare it to other types of musicals, commenting that it was instead "blazing a trail", much like Jonathan Larson's RENT did on Broadway in 1996. "It's hard to compare it to anything without doing a disservice to the piece", they explained. "It's fresh and its own thing".
Veteran West End and Broadway performer Ramin agreed, saying the experience was quite unique for him: "I don't think there's anything like this around, especially as far as a musical goes. It does feel like a play, even though it's sung through. We were all brought her for specific reasons so we can collaborate together and tell the story. It feels like a band, it feels like a family - I've never experienced something like this."
Watch the cast perform one of the songs from Murder Ballad by clicking the video below: