The macabre, sensational legend of Lizzie Borden continues to provide inspiration for many artists. And who could blame them? The mystery that surrounds the unsolved murders of Andrew and Abby Borden continues to confound and transfix the minds of many. Did Lizzie actually commit the murders? And what was the motivation? Many have theorized about the reasons, utilizing movies, television shows, and – now – musical theatre to develop their own conclusions. Thanks to the Chance Theater we now get to see a new take on the story unfold in LIZZIE THE MUSICAL.
For those not familiar with LIZZIE THE MUSICAL, the lovely folks over at Chance Theater provided a summary of what the show entails:
“Our 21st Season kicks off with a punk-rock opera that explores the bloody legend of America’s favorite axe-wielding sweetheart-diva-heroine-enigma-psychopath, Lizzie Borden. Accused of brutally killing her father and stepmother in 1892, Lizzie was eventually acquitted by a jury of her peers, leaving the horrific crime unsolved. What really happened on the fateful night of the dual killings? Journey into a wondrous exploration of this mysterious tale, inspired by the raucous and revolutionary rock spectacles of the ’70s, and iconic women rockers like Patti Smith and Joan Jett.”
The show itself was simply quite phenomenal. Running more like an opera rather than a musical, each song number seamlessly transitioned into the next, with each cast member giving powerful and emotive performances. In particular, it was so much fun seeing Robyn Manion, the Music Director, headbang along to each song. What was also very impressive was being able to see how the stage was designed. While fairly minimal in terms of props, the actors’ interaction within the set helped showcase the versatility that the simplicity provided.
Each performer came to embody the very essence of their characters. Chance resident artist Monika Peña perfectly embodies the complexities of Lizzie Borden, alternating between fragility and the slowly growing psychosis that rears within her. Newcomers Jisel Soleil Ayon, Nicole Gentile, and Alli Rose Schynert carry their own, embodying people who haven’t been as thoroughly explored by history compared to Lizzie. Ayon came to embody that soft, warmth in Alice Russell that Lizzie was lacking in her own home life. Gentile was saucy, sinister, and delightful as Bridget Sullivan, providing a different image for me of the Irish maid. And Schynert took on the harsh, spinsteresque energy that many could easily connect to the older Emma Borden.
The themes that run throughout the course of LIZZIE THE MUSICAL are those that are relevant to our time now. This particular adaptation of the Lizzie Borden legend focuses on a combination of issues being the reason for why Lizzie snapped. However, the most predominant one is that Lizzie is being frequently assaulted by her own father, which is portrayed early on in the musical in a heartbreaking number. Although the father is not played by anyone in the show, his domineering, misogynist presence is felt all throughout the first Act. So, by the time we get to that climactic scene, we all can’t help but cheer at Lizzie finally being free.
Overall, LIZZIE THE MUSICAL is a show that you really shouldn’t miss. Even if you aren’t able to attend the run of shows at the Chance Theater, keep your eyes and ears peeled for potential incarnations of the show in your area. But you know a show is good when you can turn to your friend sitting next to you beaming and go, “Oh my god. This…I wish I could be up there with them.” It’s a fun, riveting show that will make you want to rock out, especially as Borden comes to her pivotal decision to kill her parents. I would definitely recommend those who are unfamiliar with the legend to maybe consult Wikipedia and just the Internet at large to make it easier to follow along with the story. If you’re not familiar, you might get lost.