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Interview: The Tragic Love Triangle of Murder Ballad, now playing at Patio Playhouse

by Cassiopeia Guthrie, October 20, 2022

True crime is having its moment and musicals are gaining ever more notoriety as they get adapted one after another for network… capitalizing on this interest, Escondido's Patio Playhouse has turned to staging a production of Murder Ballad, running through November 6 at the Kalmia location.

Relationships are not always what they seem and this is certainly the case for Sara, torn between a volatile (but steamy) relationship with bartender ex-boyfriend Tom and reliable, stable husband Michael. Finding herself challenged by the incongruousness with which she wears the title of mother, Sara lets herself get drawn into a dangerous rekindling of romances past. Does the risking of everything justify the spark of excitement? What happens when passion and power shift? And what is it like to slip into the roles at the center of this Julia Jordan and Juliana Nash piece?

Tom and Sara struggle in the foreground. Narrator looks on from behind.
From L to R: Jason Schlarmann, Sarah LeClair, Josalyn Johnson. Photo credit: Ken Jacques Photography.

Jason Schlarmann, who plays Tom, shared that he was first drawn to Murder Ballad by the rawness of the show’s songs and the subject matter. “The music paints mostly with a blues rock palate to drive forward big themes in the story, but the instrumentation is kept stripped down enough to pull back for the more pointed, emotional moments. The themes we explore in the show are just as raucous as the guitar’s overdrive as we dive heart first into love, fidelity, self worth, family, forgiveness, and, of course, murder! Big tunes, big feels, big fun!”

Like any theatrical show, though, it's the relationship with the characters that drive the story arc. Robert Alegria relates to his character, Michael, as the father of a daughter who went through divorce. “Every character in this show has a story to tell. No villains, no heroes… simply broken people doing their best to get through life.” He adds that it isn’t until Frankie (his daughter with Sara) is about 5 that he realizes that his personal drive to succeed has impacted his family as his wife “looks for acceptance outside of their marriage” in his inability to tell her that she is enough.

Michael and Sara have a conversation.
From L to R: Robert Alegria, Sarah LeClair. Photo credit: Ken Jacques Photography.

“Hidden under the sex and violence is a very real story of flawed people making compromises and doing their best to find happiness,” adds Sarah LeClair, who plays Sara in the production. “Michael as the husband and father tries to give his family the best life possible and in the process loses his connection to his wife and daughter. Tom chooses to be single because he fears making a mistake by committing, only to find himself lonely and lost without the life he rejected. Sara kept getting hurt in loving recklessly so she chose stability and security, got everything she thought she wanted in a house, husband and child, but has lost herself in the process. They all are just trying to feel something in the numbness that can take over while we’re trudging along at daily life, trying to figure out who they are.”

LeClair says that she hopes that “audiences don’t immediately jump to judge any of the characters. Often we expect characters in stories, particularly women, to put their own happiness on hold for the people around them or we condemn them as the villains of the piece. This musical does a beautiful job for each of the four characters of telling you exactly why they made the choice they did when the crucial moment came, and I hope the audiences will go on the journey with each of us to see themselves in our flaws.”

Murder Ballad, directed by Matt FitzGerald and Rachel Mink (and which includes a fourth character, the narrator played by Josalyn Johnson), runs at Patio Playhouse through November 6. Tickets are available at

The cast of Murder Ballad look steamily at the camera.
From L to R: Robert Alegria as Michael, Sarah LeClair as Sara, Jason Schlarmann as Tom. Photo credit: Jennifer Gutierre.


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