I snagged a last minute ticket to the second-to-last performance of James Lapine and William Finn’s Little Miss Sunshine at Second Stage Theatre. I’d heard very mixed things but I’d be hearing things for so long that I wanted to check it out regardless. And I’m really glad I did.

I think I may have seen the movie at one point or another, but I didn’t remember it well at all. I knew it was about a children’s beauty pageant and the road to get there, but that was it. The space inside Second Stage’s main stage was used so brilliantly and simply. It revolved around an upstage platform with some LCD screens and some seats on wheels, one with a steering wheel. 

I have to admit that the show didn’t have a great flow, but the characters were engaging enough that most of the time you didn’t really care that each song felt disconnected from the last. Will Swenson and Stephanie J. Block, as Olive’s parents, were both amusing and well-sung; Rory O’Malley was emotionally gripping as Olive’s uncle Frank; Logan Rowland was hysterical as Olive’s older, silent brother Dwayne (though his voice was at times a tad nasally); David Roscow also provided very necessary comedic relief as the grandfather when times were tense inside the bus. Additionally there were Wesley Taylor, Jennifer Sanchez, and Alivia Clark, Victoria Dennis, Miranda McKeon, and Leonay Shepherd as the additional (and in my opinion pointless) pageant brats. 

Last, but certainly not least, was Hannah Nordberg, as the title character Olive. Nordberg was energetic, owned the stage whenever possible, and she had a great voice. Her final number had everyone in the audience clapping and shouting. If you hadn’t loved her up until that point, you certainly did afterward.

Little Miss Sunshine, though not perfect by any means, was certainly a fun 100 minutes at the theatre that I’m glad I didn’t miss. 

Murder Ballad

I saw Murder Ballad on Friday night after hearing numerous positive accounts from friends whose opinions I trust. Also: Rebecca Naomi Jones, Will Swenson, and Cassie Levy? Yes, please sign me up.

I guess site-specific, make your stage shows are the rage now. I guess everyone has to have some schtick and Murder Ballad capitalized on this by basically creating their own theatre in the round at the Union Square Theatre. Where I was sitting was basically where the stage would’ve been. The show’s action centers around a long bar in the front orchestra and a pool table in the house left section of the orchestra.

The plot, although semi-cliche, is compelling enough to keep you interested for 80 minutes (No intermission! Score!) and despite the upfront admission that the ending is not happy, is pretty happy. I have to admit that after being told by Jones’ character that someone dies, I spent much of the show guessing who it’d be.

The score is great. There is LOTS of belting. It’s a great rock score, with just the right number of ballads to make sure you don’t get a headache from the volume. The lighting and staging is beautiful, and very creative. John Ellison Conlee was out, so Josh Tower covered for him; and he was great.

Jones’ character is mainly the narrator who breaks down the fourth wall from the very first note. I thought she was, of course, fantastic. And like in American Idiot she wears very little clothing the entire time. 

The show begins and ends in exactly the same, which is something I always love, because it gives you chills. Murder Ballad is eerier form start to finish, and it’s also quite amazing.

Murder Ballad is paying at the Union Square Theatre through July 21st.