Thursday, October 29, 2009


Arts: October 30, 2009

Arts Review

By Barry Pineo

Murder Ballad Murder Mystery

The Vortex, through Nov. 7

Running time: 2 hr

The older I get, the more I seem to enjoy plays and films that have no obvious linear, narrative plot. When I first saw Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York, I thought it was the finest, deepest, greatest film I had seen in many years, so I was surprised to read reviews that excoriated it for its shallowness and its indulgence. It only goes to show, there really is no accounting for taste.

I have a feeling that some might react to this Vortex Repertory-Tutto Theatre Company co-production of Elizabeth Doss' original musical with similar confusion and, perhaps, even derision. But I can't recall seeing many Austin theatre productions in the last 20 or so years so seamlessly perfect as this one. I'm tempted to give most of the credit to director Dustin Wills, but I hesitate to do so. While certainly Wills was the guiding hand, every element of the production contributes mightily to its overall effect.

Take Doss' original script, which seems set in some unnamed part of Appalachia. Its focus is death, and it's filled with it. Sister kills sister, father kills daughter, mother kills father, strangers kill strangers, and that's just the first act. But rather than stirring horror and revulsion, the deaths are perversely loving or revoltingly comic, and all are set to music. Two of the songs particularly stand out: Content Love Knowles stops the show in the first act with her rendition of "You Got What You Deserved," and Mark Stewart, accompanying himself on guitar, fascinates in the second act with the strange ballad "The Night I Didn't Kill You."

Or look at set designer Lisa Laratta's transformation of the Vortex space, which I've never seen used more effectively. Ramps and platforms span the walls. Actors splash through a pool of water center stage. Rope and spookily glowing lanterns hang suspended from the ceiling, and shanks of rope adorn the walls. Actors crawl onto the stage, slide onto it, scamper up and down ladders, and are hoisted to the roof. And the background for all of this – well, I just don't want to give this delightful surprise away. If you want to know what major scenic element dominates the stage, you'll just have to see it for yourself.

Or consider Mark Stewart and Andy Tindall's original, evocative bluegrass music, which accompanies most of the action, played by a band of four on banjo, guitar, mandolin, and fiddle. And while, for me, Robert Pierson's growling father Tom and Hilah Johnson's detached and weary Agatha stand out, the entire ensemble of actors commits completely and utterly to this broad, bizarre vision of a backwoods community gone completely and utterly mad.

In writing all this, I don't want to imply that the production is transcendent. Nothing is, really. Even I found it self-indulgently ridiculous when Caden Cotard used a dropper to put fake tears in his eyes in Synecdoche, New York. But that moment was the exception that proves the rule: In order to achieve greatness, great risk must be undertaken, and you'll be hard-pressed to find a riskier production in Austin this year than this strange string of ballads and mysteries, best summed up in the final lines of the final song of the show: "How lucky to be dead. How lucky to be singing ... tonight."

You can now Follow Tutto Theatre Company on Twitter & Facebook.

Monday, October 26, 2009


Murder Ballad Murder Mystery Opens with a BANG! BANG! BANG!

A lowdown & dirty load-in followed by a fast & furious tech week were well worth the dark circles meticulously covered with concealer by the cast. Thank god for adrenaline, ‘else asses would have been draggin’. A sold-out opening crowd witnessed one hell of show! Fourth of July fireworks shot straight from the swamp last Friday night. We wore our inner animals on our sleeves, tackling every scene & song with guts & gumption. Were they mishaps? Sure. Deviations from our best-laid plans? Hell, yes. And shit-ton of heart, too. And some tired, happy tears at the opening night soiree as Bonnie Cullum, toasted the incredible efforts from both Tutto Theatre Company & Vortex that brought this beast of a musical into being.

And there were no “second night blues” on Saturday when we met, once again, a solidly packed house. We were up to tricks old & new, hollerin’, line dancin’, and brandishing plastic pistols. Enough entrances and exits to make your head spin. No time hem and haw! This breakneck play requires an A game. The ensemble on their toes at all times. All except our sweet harp, Agnes, suspended in her swing like upside down anchor, defying gravity. From Lincoln Lady’s gritty ditty “I Killed You”, to the Sleuth’s bad-ass rendering of, “Why’s Everybody Gotta Die?” Murder Ballads ran, yet again, on greased lightening.

And we didn’t stop there ‘cause we packed ‘em in again on Sunday! And we even amped it up a notch for fiddle player and musical director, Andy Tindall’s birthday. We met with surprisingly responsive crowd. Jay and I managed through our rapid fire text with fewer slip-ups than ever before. Some took issue with the Indian Summer heat, but I must say it made the water fight feel like a pool party. So, I couldn’t complain. They say a cold front’s comin’ next week.

In a nutshell? Great stuff all around. The design rocks. The cast rules. The direction from Tutto Theatre Company's Dustin Wills reeks of genius. Who could ask for more? Not me. I’m as happy as a pig in you-know-what.



You can now Follow Tutto Theatre Company on Twitter & Facebook.

REVIEW of Murder Ballad Murder Mystery on KOOP Radio...

Two weeks ago we were featured guest on the 91.7 KOOP radio show Off Stage and On The Air hosted by Lisa Scheps. As part of this week's show Lisa interview live and on the air the Murder Ballad Murder Mystery ticket winner.

Click play below and listen to what the winner had to say about Murder Ballad Murder Mystery.


Tickets for Murder Ballad Murder Mystery
are available NOW at:

For reservations call: Available at 512-478-LAVA (5282)

You can now Follow Tutto Theatre Company on Twitter & Facebook.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Murder Ballad Murder Mystery

Tutto Theatre Company & VORTEX Repertory Company


Murder Ballad Murder Mystery
by Elizabeth Doss | Directed by Dustin Wills

Murder Ballad Murder Mystery unearths a host of dank and dirty bayou bandits whose names once marauded headlines, wanted posters, and LP sleeves. Watch these corpses whittle out new murder tools to make mincemeat of fair maidens and turn your sweetest dream into your worst nightmare. This psychedelic bluegrass symphonic romp through the swamp spins infamous southern-gothic tales of torture and true crime into a circus massacre of whodunits. A blast from the past straight up from the grave.

Featuring an amazing cast including: Alex Cogburn, Andy Tindall, Ben Schave, Cami Alys Frederic, Content Love Knowles, Elizabeth Doss, Emily Tindall, Florinda Bryant, Hilah Johnson, Kelli Bland, Mark Stewart, Phillip Emanuel Smith, and Robert Pierson.

Also Featuring: Set Design by Lisa Laratta, Lighting Design by Megan M. Reilly, and Costume Design by Kim H. Ngo.

Three Weeks Only!

23-25 October 2009 (Friday-Sunday 8:00 p.m.),

28-31 October 2009 (Wednesday-Saturday 8:00 p.m.)

& 4-7 November 2009 (Wednesday-Saturday 8:00 p.m.)

with BONUS Halloween show on Friday, October 30th, 11:00 p.m.

2307 Manor Road; Austin, Texas 78722
To View A Map Click Here


$30-$25 Priority Seating, $20-$15 General Admission, $10 Starving Artists

Wednesdays: BUY-1-GET-1-FREE with donation of non-perishable food item.
(Donations to benefit Hope Food Pantry of Trinity United Methodist Church)

Tickets for Murder Ballad Murder Mystery
are available NOW at!!!

For reservations call: Available at 512-478-LAVA (5282)

You can now Follow Tutto Theatre Company on Twitter & Facebook.

Tutto Theatre Company is funded in part by the City of Austin through the Cultural Arts Division.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Tutto wins BIG at the 2008-2009 B. Iden Payne Awards

Thank you so much Austin and many congrats to all who put themselves out there to make the world a prettier place. DON'T WASTE THE PRETTY!!!

2008-2009 B. Iden Payne Awards


Outstanding Production of a Play for Youth
Pattern Nation (Pollyanna Theatre Company)

Outstanding Director of a Play for Youth
Judy Matetzschk-Campbell (Pattern Nation)

Outstanding Actor in a Play for Youth
Nathan Jerkins (Hansel, Hansel and Gretel)

Outstanding Actress in a Play for Youth
Karen Jambon (Witch, Hansel and Gretel)


Outstanding Production of Music Theater
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Summer Stock Austin)

Outstanding Director of Music Theater
Michael McKelvey (Sweeney Todd)

Outstanding Lead Actor in Music Theater
Andrew Cannata (Sid Sorokin, The Pajama Game)

Outstanding Lead Actress in Music Theater
Kathleen Fletcher (Mrs. Lovett, Sweeney Todd)

Outstanding Featured Actor in Music Theater
Aaron Moten (Judge Turpin, Sweeney Todd)

Outstanding Featured Actress in Music Theater
Julia Duffy (Gladys, The Pajama Game)


Outstanding Production of a Comedy
Black Snow (TUTTO Theatre Company)

Outstanding Director of a Comedy
Mark Pickell (Killer Joe)

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy
Martin Burke (Bastian, House of Several Stories)

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy
Lauren Lane (Sue, House of Several Stories)

Outstanding Featured Actor in a Comedy
Travis Dean (mugged shopper, “Windchimes and Varicose Cream,” I ♥ Walmart)

Outstanding Featured Actress in a Comedy
Suzanne Balling (Maryamma, Miss Witherspoon)


Outstanding Production of a Drama
Ophelia (TUTTO Theatre Company)

Outstanding Director of a Drama
Dustin Wills (Ophelia)

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama
Andrew Varenhorst (Kyle Kalke, Touch)

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama
Xochitl Romero (Una, Blackbird)

Outstanding Featured Actor in a Drama
Wray Crawford (Shelley Levene, Glengarry Glen Ross)

Outstanding Featured Actress in a Drama
Miriam Rubin (Agnes, The Shadow Box)


Outstanding Set Design
Lisa Laratta (Black Snow)

Outstanding Lighting Design
Megan M. Reilly (Ophelia)

Outstanding Sound Design
Roy Taylor (Oceana)

Outstanding Costume Design
Pam Fletcher-Friday (Sweeney Todd)

Outstanding Music Director
Michael McKelvey (Sweeney Todd)

Outstanding Dance Choreographer
Danny Herman and Rocker Verastique (The Pajama Game)

Outstanding Fight Choreographer
Travis Dean (Killer Joe)

Outstanding Original Script
Beth Burns (The Long Now)

Outstanding Original Score
Aaron Brown (The Secret Lives of the InBetweeners)


Outstanding Cast Performance
I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change (North by Northwest Theatre Company)

Outstanding Ensemble Performance
Amie Elyn, AndreƔ Smith, David Yeakle, Mikaela Thomas, Angelica McAuley and Carlos TreviƱo (Maids, Mister Z Loves Company)

Outstanding Youth Performer
Angela Loftus (Marjorie, Scotch Doris, Natalie, Policewoman, Helena, Good Things)

Outstanding Theatrical Event
The Casket of Passing Fancy (Rubber Repertory)

Rudy Kloptik Award for Outstanding Work in Improvisational Theater

People’s Choice Award
God’s Man in Texas, Georgetown Palace Theatre

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Did you miss us on the radio? Fear Not...

This week we were honored to be the guest production on 91.7 KOOP radio show Off Stage and On The Air hosted by the every amazing Lisa Scheps. There was some great Q&A as well as songs performed live on the air from our upcoming production of Murder Ballad Murder Mystery.

If you missed us on the air fear not, just click the play button below and hear the radio show in its entirety! Comments are always welcome.

For for information about the production visit:

Murder Ballad Murder Mystery

by Elizabeth Doss | Directed by Dustin Wills

Get Tickets Here

23 – 25 October 2009: Friday – Sunday, 8:00 p.m.

28 – 31 October 2009 & 4 – 7 November 2009
Wednesday – Saturday, 8:00 p.m.
(Bonus Show: Friday, 30 October 2009, 11:00 p.m.)

[2307 Manor Road, Austin, Texas 78722]

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Murder Ballad Murder Mystey on KOOP Radio

Want to hear a little of Murder Ballad Murder Mystery? Then you'll want to tune into 91.7 FM KOOP's radio show Off Stage and On The Air at 1:00 pm on Monday October 12th to hear an interview with director Dustin Wills and a sneak preview of the show!!!

- Tutto