REVIEW: MURDER BALLAD (Arts Theatre) ★★★

murderbThe UK Premiere of MURDER BALLAD burst into London’s West End this week at the Arts Theatre with an impressive cast of West End performers on its billing.

Sarah (Kerry Ellis) ends an unhappy but sexually charged relationship with Tom (Ramin Karimloo) in favour of a more normal life of marriage and kids, with Michael (Norman Bowman). But ten years on, after a chance meeting with Tom, can she resist the passion of the fiery relationship she has been missing all these years or will she lust for one last night of passion and hope her husband doesn’t find out. After all, it could end in a blood bath if he does!

The cast of this show are pretty incredible to find in a production of this size. Swapping the huge two thousand seat theatres for one of just three hundred and fifty. Kerry Ellis (known for her leading roles in Wicked, We Will Rock You, Oliver, Les Mis and Cats to name just a few) is great in the role of Sarah. Kerry’s voice is perfectly suited for a rock musical and it is the type of show she always looks completely at home in. Ramin Karimloo has recently returned from a stint on Broadway, reprising the role of Jean Val Jean in Les Miserables. His other notable credits include Phantom of the Opera, Love Never Dies and Miss Saigon. His vocals blend well together with Kerry and he is also more than capable of holding his own on stage (with or without his shirt on). Normal Bowman (Les Mis, Cats, Guys and Dolls) is great during his solo numbers but struggles to compete with the other, more powerful voices, during duets and ensemble pieces. Victoria Hamilton-Barritt left me with my jaw on the floor by the end of the show, giving the most incredible vocals of the whole piece. As the Narrator, she guides the audience wonderfully through the show.

I didn’t realise MURDER BALLAD was eighty minutes long, without an interval and I kept expecting the first half to end at times which because confusing as to where the story was going. I was hoping it would be one of those shows that spends the first act building the story and characters but then act two really lets rip and gives it everything you were hoping for. Unfortunately the whole show just plodded along and then ended rather abruptly without the explosion I was hoping for.

For a show called Murder Ballad that is described as “London’s hottest new rock musical of love, obsession and murderous desire where blood must be spilled”, I was expecting a real bloodbath of a show but it was really rather on the tame side when it came to blood and violence.

Murder Ballad is a good new musical with a few great songs but not enough to warrant a show that is entirely sung through. Perhaps a mix of dialogue and fewer songs would work better and help to tell the story better. Nonetheless, this is a great chance to see some amazing performers in an intimate space. Just beware of the first few rows in the stalls as the stage is extremely high and I’m not sure you would see anything that close up!

Reviewed by West End Wilma

MURDER BALLAD plays at the Arts Theatre until 3 December 2016