Murder Ballad review: A new rock musical with a stellar cast ★★★

This American import will never be a classic - but Tony Peters is wowed by first-rate performances


Director Sam Yates has assembled a cast of the highest calibre for the UK premiere of this rock musical, which first saw the light of day off-Broadway.


Kerry Ellis, Ramin Karimloo, Victoria Hamilton-Barritt and Norman Bowman have had leading roles in all the biggies, from Wicked, through Miss Saigon and A Chorus Line to Phantom of the Opera. Their star power is enough to make Murder Ballad a tempting proposition.

Victoria Hamilton-Barritt, a one-woman Greek chorus, narrates the story of Sara (Ellis), who flees a turbulent relationship with bad boy club owner Tom (Karimloo) and ends up in the arms of far more sensible Michael (Bowman).

Marriage, a settled home in a more swanky part of town and a child follow. But Sara soon feels stifled by this life of uneventful domesticity and rekindles the relationship with Tom. Well, as the title clearly spells out, no good was ever going to come of that.

 Book tickets for Murder Ballad from the Radio Times box office

Book writer and lyricist Julia Jordan’s tale of a love triangle that comes to a sticky end (don’t they all?) doesn’t break any new ground story-wise and barely has enough flesh on its bones to fill the 80-minute running time. But the cast gives it a torrid and visceral quality while doing much shedding of clothes.

Given the credentials of the leads, it will also come as no surprise that the vocals are impeccable. But Juliana Nash’s sung-through score only has a few real hooks and high points, while the driving guitar-based music sounds curiously dated at times.

Kerry Ellis captures all the angst and agony of a woman in emotional turmoil and Ramin Karimloo manages to be both tough and tender as Tom. But for me it was Victoria Hamilton-Barritt who was the compelling presence, perfectly capturing the mood of Jordan’s witty and acerbic lyrics with delightful smokey vocals.

Murder Ballad isn’t quite in silk purse-sow’s ear territory, but producers must feel blessed to have a cast that lifts what would otherwise be a fairly routine show to new heights.

Murder Ballad is at the Arts Theatre until 3 December

 Book tickets for Murder Ballad from the Radio Times box office

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