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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Theatre review: Murder Ballad shows a welcome maturity for theatre company

Is it possible that Vancouver’s Fighting Chance Productions is finally showing its age? Opening its ninth season, the company that features pre-professional and amateur theatre artists in a number of shows each year, is presenting a very grown-up version of Julia Jordan and Juliana Nash’s sung-through rock opera Murder Ballad.

Much of that grown-up feeling comes from a near perfect combination of material, performers and constrained direction, in this show about a love triangle gone wrong.

Set inside the upstairs lounge of Vancouver’s Odd Fellows Hall, the action happens all around us as it tells its story of Sara, who gives up her hard-drinking party life to settle into domestic bliss with Michael, a professor at NYU. Problem is, Sara’s new life is not everything she hoped for, and she finds herself drawn back to bad-boy bartender Tom. Helping to fill in the blanks and give a running commentary on much of the action is the show’s narrator.

Given the musical’s title it doesn’t take a genius to know that it won’t end well for at least one of these characters. And even as Jordan’s book is largely unsurprising and Nash’s lyrics a little sophomoric at times, part of the fun is in guessing who will eventually be offed, and that pay-off in its final moments is as deliciously satisfying as it is unexpected.

Cecilly Day gives a bravura performance as Murder Ballad's narrator
Cecilly Day gives a bravura performance as Murder Ballad’s narrator. Photo by Allyson Fournier.

Director Ryan Mooney has assembled a quartet of actors who are not only up to the challenges of Nash’s music, but who are ultimately believable as these stock characters.

Leading the way is a phenomenal performance by Cecilly Day as the narrator.  Not only can Day sing rings around many of our city’s finest, if you watch closely (and it is hard not to keep your eyes off her), you’ll see a sly smile that underscores her entire performance. She knows something, but you’ll have to wait to find out exactly what it is. It is also the sign of a real pro.

As the love triangle, Matt Briard, Amy Garner and Riley Qualtieri are also top-notch. While all three get overpowered by the tight small four-piece band occasionally, and Briard does seem a little awkward as bad-boy Tom, there is still so much to like about this trio as they attack this rock opera with skill and finesse.

Mooney keeps things simple, which is a huge blessing here as it allows this quartet to shine. He also gives up the choreography reins to Kelly Shackleford who helps to ramp up the sexy factor, even if there is always room for sexier in a show like this.

This is simply the best offering from Fighting Chance Productions in some time. It is not perfect, but it shows a level of maturity that is reinforced by having the right people in the right show. It should be the bar for this company’s future.

Murder Ballad. Book and lyrics by Julia Jordan. Music and lyrics by Juliana Nash. Directed by Ryan Mooney. On stage at the Odd Fellows Hall (1443 8th Ave West, Vancouver) until December 6. Visit for tickets and information.

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