Lizzie is a musical by Tim Maner, Steven Cheslik-Demeyer and Alan Stevens Hewitt. It tells the story of the infamous, sensational American axe murder case of Lizzie Borden, with a cast of four incredibly powerful actresses/singers, backed by a fantastic band and a really strong rock score.
On 4th August 1892, in the town of Fall River, Massachusetts, Lizzie Borden allegedly killed her father and step-mother, but despite conflicting testimonies on the part of Lizzie and other witnesses, the burning of a dress a few days after the murders, and Lizzie’s want of prussic acid a few days before, she was acquitted at trial on 20th June 1893. The case remains to this day one of the world’s most famous unresolved mysteries, and Lizzie herself continued to reside in Fall River until her death.
The musical begins with the timid and shy young Lizzie facing abuse from her father, and with her sister, Emma, on the edge of murderous rage due to the sisters’ now disadvantaged position in their father’s new will now that he has re-married. Her only support seems to come from the housekeeper and a neighbour, but after several hints, prods and suggestions, the already unhinged Lizzie is sent over the edge when her father kills her beloved pigeons in the barn, decapitating them with a hatchet. By the end of act one, she is provoked into committing the deed, decapitating first her step-mother and then her father in splatters of blood and pumpkin guts.
There is an ingenious contrast between her fragile, disturbed, unbalanced character in the first act and her strong, uncaring and rather joyously unhinged character in the second act after the slaughter, giving a sense of liberation from her oppressive and cruel father and controlling step-mother.
Emma Borden, Lizzie’s older sister, is painted as the more angry, enraged and potentially vengeful sister, one of the driving forces behind her sweet little sister’s act of parricide, bringing out Lizzie’s pent-up rage and realising both of their fantasies. The housekeeper, Bridget Sullivan, is also portrayed as a pot-stirring puppet-master, subtly suggesting and quietly encouraging Lizzie to carry out the murders. In contrast, Alice Russell, the next-door neighbour and suggested lover of Lizzie, is the opposing character, cautioning against such drastic action and is reluctant to lie about what she’s seen to the police.
Bjorg Gamst (The Drowsy Chaperone, The Little Mermaid, The Three Musketeers) reprises her role as Lizzie from the original Danish production, and her interaction with Bleu Woodward (Oh! What A Lovely War, Kinky Boots, Hairspray), as Alice, was fantastic. Eden Espinosa (Wicked, Rent, Brooklyn the Musical) excels as elder sister Emma, particularly with ‘Sweet Little Sister’. Bridget is played by Jodie Jacobs (27, Carrie, Rock of Ages) who has outstanding vocal abilities and adds some very comic moments to the show.
It is a strongly feminist musical with an underlying “girl power” message throughout. Lizzie takes charge of her own destiny, refusing to suffer any more abuse and unhappiness. There is also a suggested romance between Lizzie and Alice in a time when lesbianism would have been considered scandalous. The cast of four women are all outstanding, with immensely powerful rock voices. The musical score is superb, with standout numbers including ‘Somebody Will Do Something’ and ‘The House of Borden’.
Lizzie is a thrilling, chilling, electric interpretation of the Borden murder-mystery legend set to an incredible rock score. It is a must-see and we’d love to see it transfer.
Lizzie is showing at the Greenwich Theatre until 12th March (for more information and to book tickets, click here).