The name says it all in Second Star Theatre Company’s show, just-in-time-for-Valentine’s: “Murder Ballad.” There will be love. There will be passion. There will be heartbreak. There will be blood.
David Heck is directing the show, with a four-person cast who will flesh out the characters in this Off-Broadway musical, which debuted in 2012. The Wilmington premiere will be led by local musicians Billy Heathen (guitar/music director), Paul Miller (keys), Matthew Marino (bass), and Phil Covington (drums).
“I have to give credit to my wife, Robin,” Heck says. “We like to take day trips, and the drive time can take a few hours. She insisted I needed to listen to the music [in ‘Murder Ballad.’]”
It was 2013 and the show—with music by Juliana Nash, and lyrics and book by Julia Jordan—was playing still in New York. Heck had little information on “Murder Ballad” and began piecing the show together according to its soundtrack.
“It painted an image in my head of what I expected to see,” he remembers. It also inflamed his passion for the show, one in which he would end up casting his wife as Narrator, along with Beau Mumford as Tom, Kire Ann Stenson as Sara, and Jay Zadeh as Michael.
“Murder Ballad” centers around an Upper West Side gal, Sara, who has a perfect family, with her smart, poetry-loving husband, Michael, and their child. Yet, she finds herself somehow unhappy with this cozy life. Her ex-boyfriend Tom—a self-proclaimed king of downtown, with whom she lived and had a passionate love affair during her Bohemian days—shows up pining after the love he let go years prior. A love triangle begins and essentially leads to someone’s demise.
“It’s a ‘murder ballad,’ so you need to know there’s always a killer, and logically someone’s gonna die,” Heck foretells. “Do you want to know if nice guys really do finish last?”
The story is told through song, which means it depends on the notes of the music and vocal and talent of the actors to emote and capture its essence. It sets the tone for all the ins and outs of life, as heard in music that can be playful (“Turning to Beautiful”) and at other times hard-hitting (“I Love NY”).
“Since there is no dialogue, the music drives the show,” Heck clarifies. “The Narrator steps in and out of the story, filling the gaps, and nudging them along to craft the story she wants to tell.”
The plot offers insight into life’s larger questions and ordeals every human may face: reconciling the projection of one’s life path. We often face numerous incarnations of ourselves, from youth to young adulthood to adulthood. Heck says “Murder Ballad” essentially re-imagines a familiar story.
“People have a preconceived notion about social norms and what they are supposed to be doing/feeling in society,” he explains. “We play the good neighbor, the successful business person, the doting parent because that’s what we imagine we are supposed to be doing. After years of living a publicly crafted life, some people realize they are no longer the person they want to be.”
Thus they face existential crises and deal with it in ways that don’t always work to benefit them. The show features the depth of inner conflict, as heard in “Coffee’s On,” “Trouble Mind” and “I’ll Be There.”
“The story’s best moments show how interconnected the characters are,” Heck explains. “‘The Crying Scene’ artistically paints lives of people in an ongoing affair, and ‘You Belong to Me’ sets the tone for a violent climax. These are my favorites.”
The world of “Murder Ballad” takes up 6 miles of New York City, from a pool table in a bar to abstract spaces. Heck imagined the set design from day one. “I built a model as part of my pitch to direct it in Wilmington,” he tells. He has been collaborating with Mumford and Zeb Mims on lighting design, and costuming has been a joint effort among the cast since it’s street clothing.
Heck says the real pull of the show comes in the music, though. “Fans of contemporary rock musicals are a growing audience here in Wilmington,” he notes. “I believe local Wilmington theatre needs to survive and thrive with new people discovering [its] thrill.”
Sometimes that means showcasing an unknown piece over classic and toe-tapping well-known theatre. “I’d rather take the chance [on ‘Murder Ballad’] and expand what people’s expectations should be for theatre in Wilmington, and bring in new fans as well,” he tells.
Second Star’s mission is to educate and encourage youth and teens in theatre, with group-effort projects to foster the next generation of Wilmington thespians and even techies. However, it will be Second Star’s second adult production, wherein they work with established community members to produce shows oftentimes overlooked. Last year they presented “The Last Five Years.”
“Murder Ballad” opens Feb. 14, 8 p.m., and runs through Feb. 18, as well as the following weekend, Feb. 23-25.