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

By Andrew Gans
17 May 2013

Jones with Daniel Breaker and Colman Domingo in Passing Strange.
Photo by Carol Rosegg

Question: What was your first Broadway show?
Jones: Passing Strange.

Question: Do you remember your first night on Broadway and how that lived up to your expectations?
Jones: Yes. I think the entire Passing Strange experience was different than any other Broadway experience just because it was so much "the little show that could," from the beginning. We didn’t originally expect it to go to Broadway. It began as just a co-production between Berkeley Rep and The Public Theater, which already was so exciting for me. I loved the piece so much, and it was just this project that held so much weight for all of us, and we were all so, so excited about it. So that in itself was such a gift, and then when it went to Broadway, it was such a strange thing because it didn’t feel like a Broadway show, and we didn’t feel like Broadway people. It felt kind of bizarre but still really, really exciting. We were just so proud of that piece. I do remember actually, on opening night, an interviewer saying to me, “Now you’re officially a Broadway performer.” And I remember thinking, “Wow, that is so cool!” And like that, you are somebody who does Broadway. And, I’ll never forget that. It was really sweet of that man pointing that out.

Question: Getting to Murder Ballad, how did this role come about?
Jones: It’s kind of a wild thing because on paper I didn’t really understand it. It’s such a strange show, and it’s so much the kind of show that comes to life before you in the flesh as opposed to on the page. Not to say that Julia [Jordan] and Juliana [Nash] haven’t done great work, but it’s a piece that really relies on human connection – actual living, breathing, human connection. And, also, I think a narrator is a really tricky thing to put together in general in any play, just making it interesting and making a choice about why you're telling the story and why you’ve been given this task of narrating. In general I think it’s just a weird, tricky thing. For this role specifically, I think how this part came to be is because [director] Trip Cullman gave me so much freedom, and that has been so exciting. I joined the project at the last workshop of it, which was at New York Stage and Film at Vassar, and it’s been a funky process figuring out who it is, who this character is, what the show is, how the character functions in the show. It just dawned on me and Trip how important it is for my character to sometimes cut the dramatic and deep nature of the circumstances that are happening with the characters in the show with humor and a bit of a side eye and an eye roll — all of that stuff. And, that’s really been fun for me because we can allow the other characters to go though these things they're going through, and then my character can allow the audience a bit of relief. So that’s been really fun, and she’s just a tricky broad. She’s sexy and scary and fun and childish and mature and wise and messy…Trip has just allowed me to play, play, play, and he's continuing to allow me to play, play, play, which is such a gift.

Question: How would you describe the show for someone who hasn’t seen it?
Jones: I would say that the show itself is about adults making bad decisions. [Laughs.] Every day decisions… things that people do every day… It's about adults behaving badly…it's about infidelity and murder! I would also say something that I’ve said to a lot of people recently, which is that I think something that's really special about the show is that it’s a rock musical. It’s a true rock musical that’s not about angsty teenagers, which I think is really cool. The show is a rock musical, and it rocks, and it’s sexy, and it’s wild. But it’s about adults. And that’s kind of cool and dangerous and different, I think.