Cassie Levy stars as Sara, a lascivious young woman who trades a destructive relationship with the hunky Tom (Will Swenson) for one with Michael (John Ellison Conlee), who has a PhD in poetry and promises passionless stability. The change is doomed, of course, as her chemistry with Tom proves too strong to ignore, trapping Sara in a series of lies. The premise will be familiar to anyone who stayed up late to catch glimpses of scrambled Cinemax nudity, and Ballad underlines the connection with a female lead whose character design is straight out of Adrian Lyne.
This is all interesting in theory, and not unreasonable in practice. While Fatal Attraction and the like are unexpected sources for a show, the genre’s heightened emotions and bold drama wouldn't exactly be out of place in musical theater. The problem is that a show that begins with sex and ends with murder lessens the impact of both if it features a wishy-washy second act that attempts to inject nuance (of all things!). Perhaps most fatally, the show is almost entirely sung, but none of the numbers are especially memorable; they're expositional.
But let's give credit where it's due: Levy is a tremendous talent, with a voice that more than compensates for any weakness in the score. Just as good is the narrator played by Rebecca Naomi Jones, though her role illustrates the kind of choice that muddles the show’s impact. You can't deny her charisma, but her character’s unclear role—half-omnipotent, half-participant—is a distraction. Still, it may be worth it for the moment when she stands atop a bar to sing about “someone to come home to, someone to love you,” then adds, “ugh!”