DIVA TALK: A Chat With Murder Ballad Star Rebecca Naomi Jones

By Andrew Gans
17 May 2013

Jones in Murder Ballad.
Photo by Joan Marcus

Question: What’s it been like revisiting the show for this second staging in a different venue?
Jones: It’s been more difficult than we thought it would be. Even though the actual building is different, the set is very similar to what it was in design. Mark Wendland’s amazing set design is very similar to what it was before, and the script hasn’t changed very much. I think we all thought and Trip thought and the producers thought that in order to put the show back up on its feet we wouldn’t have to change all that much in terms of staging and what the story was going to be. We didn’t have a lot of rehearsal in this period either. Trip had an extra week with Caissie getting her ready to take over the role of Sara – but other than that, we had about a week of regular rehearsal and a week of tech. And we’ve discovered, in the last couple of days as we've been beginning previews, that in fact the show is wildly different! Number one, the space is actually much different. It’s much bigger, the ceilings are much higher, and we’re so much further away from each other that it’s trickier to make certain connections with characters. Sightlines are different, and we have more of an audience space. We’ve had to re-block a lot of things we didn’t think we’d have to. And, aside from that, having a completely different actress playing the character that really is the hero in a way, the person whose story you follow the most, is very different. Karen Olivo is obviously a fantastic actress, and so is Caissie Levy, but they play the part pretty differently. There’s just a different energy about it, so that actually changes the story in a way. It’s like we’ve had to sew together the through line in a different way, and I think we’re still figuring it out, but everybody’s up for a project. [Laughs.] It’s been tricky, but I think that’s what we love – the figuring it out is the fun of it.

Question: Do you have a favorite moment in the show for your character, the Narrator?
Jones: Good question! I really love the very beginning of the play. The first song of the play is almost like a thesis statement. The show is called Murder Ballad, but the first song is not necessarily about what the show is about specifically. It’s more about murder ballads in general, and bringing the audience members into how the story is going to be told, and that we’re going to be walking among them, and that the story they’re about to see is our version of a murder ballad. We let the audience know to pay attention in a certain way. I think that song is always kind of exciting and has a mysterious quality to it that’s really fun. And then I also love the song “Crying Scene,” which is kind of a crooner-y, beautiful, beautiful song that I get to sing with a really cool metallic leather jacket on, which is pretty badass. [Laughs.] And the choreography for that song is really beautiful, what the other actors are doing. So I think that’s pretty special.

Question: Do you have any other projects in the works?
Jones: Yes, I’m actually going to take a leave of absence from Murder Ballad mid-July to mid-August to go do Love’s Labour's Lost at Shakespeare in the Park.

Jones in American Idiot.
photo by Paul Kolnik

Question: Have you done much Shakespeare before?
Jones: I’ve done Shakespeare before, but not in a long time. It’s like something happens if you’re brown, and you sing, people kind of want you to sing! [Laughs.] But I did a lot of Shakespeare in high school and college, and I don’t think I’ve actually done Shakespeare since, which is pretty sad, but in a way, doing musicals can be a lot like doing Shakespeare.

Question: Have you done anything in the Park before?
Jones: The only thing I’ve done is a Passing Strange concert we did years ago, but that’s not the same, and that’s why I wanted to do it so badly. The piece is really cool, and Alex Timbers is directing, and I'm excited about it. I’m pretty sad to have to leave Murder Ballad, but I’m so excited to do Shakespeare in the Park; it’s, of course, like a long-term dream of mine.

Question: What role will you be playing?
Jones: I will be playing Jaquenetta, the little country wench. It’s so funny because any show I’m in I will somehow find a way to be the sexual one. [Laughs.]

Question: Have you heard the score?
Jones: It’s really beautiful. Michael Freidman just continues to amaze me. His music keeps surprising me every time I hear a new work of his. I’ve been working on another piece of his, Fortress of Solitude, based on the Jonathan Lethem book, and that music is beautiful, too. But, yes, this music is really beautiful, really cool and folky, exciting stuff. And, the song I get to sing is just heartbreaking.

[Tickets for Murder Ballad are available via Ticketmaster.com or by calling (800) 982-2787 or by visiting the Union Square Theatre Box Office (100 East 17th Street). Tickets are priced $80 for performances Monday-Thursday and $90 for performances Friday-Sunday.]

Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.