A3 murder ballad table.JPG

Michelle Firsching and her husband, Luke, in a scene showing the need for a stand-in pool table that, in the words of Emily Vawter (center) “fell out of the sky” for the cast.

Somehow, the middle school would not have worked for a musical about a tormented love triangle in a New York bar.

So, River City Saloon adopted the role.

“Murder Ballad: A Rock Opera” closes this weekend at a nightspot known for its plethora of screens showing sports, and a stage that hosts rock bands of all stripes. An odd fit, but a fit.

Mark Steighner directs the Columbia Gorge Orchestra Association departure in the new venue.

Local musical veteran Emily Vawter is joined by three recent additions to the Gorge theater scene in this brisk, action-filled musical about love, lust and jealousy, written by Julia Jordan (book, lyrics, conception) and Juliana Nash (lyrics, music). The idea is based on classic murder ballads such as “Frankie and Johnnie,” “Hey Joe,” and others.

With her are Luke and Michele Firsching and Tommy Fliss.

See Happenings, page A9, for details on tickets and times.

Steighner on keys leads a four-piece quartet with Paul Thompson on bass, Jason Hartmann on drums and Dennis Castanares on guitar.

Steighner needed a place with more grit and realism than the modern, airy Wy’east Performing Arts Center, usual home to CGO musicals.

Yet, the saloon venue led to some unusual rehearsal situations: 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning might seem like a strange time to rehearse in a bar, but they did it. Other times, the cast ran through the show on stage while River City was open for business.

Cast members said it was distracting but gave them the feel for the tavern where much of the action takes place.

River City manager Joe Kirkwood was up for the experiment.

“We just decided to try something new, we’re always trying to grow as a business,” he said.

“Hopefully, we can do it again,” Kirkwood said.

Logistics including moving the saloon’s pool table out of the way for its “Murder Ballad” replacement.

“The pool table is a big heavy beast, but they have a bunch of volunteers to help out,” Kirkwood said.

River City’s table was set aside to avoid damage, as the story calls for characters to stand on, dance on, and do, well, other things, on the green felt. Those scenes were rehearsed on the main floor in the early rehearsals.

Then, in the upper valley, Luke Firsching saw some residents putting out a pool table by the road, with a “free” sign on it. Well-used but in good shape, the table was claimed on the spot, and a truck was arranged to bring it to River City.

“It was literally the universe saying we should do this show,” Vawter said.

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