The law may have declared her not guilty, but legend and tradition think otherwise. So, too, does the uncompromising, in-your-face, rock musical, Lizzie.
Based on the infamous Lizzie Borden affair, A/C Theatre Company increased the volume and began its second season this past weekend at the intimate Hardes Theatre at Phoenix Theatre with Lizzie, a four-woman, hard core rock musical that assumes all the rumors and gossip you’ve ever heard revolving around the story are true.
Performed on a raised wooden platform with angled handrails and doorways, designer Greg Hynes’ set resembles something of a model for an unfinished, theme park crazy house, a sparse yet highly effective scenic design that adds to the overall nightmare effect of the production’s horrific theme. “There’s some crazy shite in the house of Borden,” declares the maid, Bridget (Heather Fallon).
Under Alan Ruch’s musical direction, the show may have a pulsating rock score with an economy of dialog but writers Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer, Tim Maner and Alan Stevens Hewitt have done their homework when it comes to rumor and plot, even with the relatively minor though important details that add to the story’s makeup. Lizzie (Megan Moylan) who insisted that her name was not Elizabeth, had a habit of calling Bridget the live-in maid ‘Maggie,’ the name of a previous maid. Father really did kill Lizzie’s pigeons in the barn with a hatchet. Lizzie and her older sister Emma (Lauren McKay) had a somewhat religious upbringing, called their stepmother ‘Mrs. Borden’ and really did believe that the new woman in their lives was after father’s money. And close friend to Lizzie, Alice (Cassie Chilton) really did discover Lizzie burning a bloodied dress in a fire after the event. All of that is documented and included in the show.
Then there are the rumors of abuse, incest and even a lesbian tryst. “Daddy, stop it,” Lizzie proclaims as she relates time spent alone with her father, singing of fingers on her stomach, then fingers on her fingers. The events leading up to the two murders lead no doubt as to why Lizzie would become unhinged, grab an axe and do the deed. As presented here, stepmom and dad were asking for it.
Musically, Lizzie is a powerhouse production that gives each of the four performers an opportunity at one time or another to let rip and go to town with some high-powered, passionate vocals. Because of the theatre’s intimate setting and the close-proximity of the audience to the stage, there’s a surprising and welcomed clarity to the lyrics, even when the volume is occasionally turned up to eleven. But make no mistake, this is timeless, through the decades rock ‘n roll in the purest sense. Unlike the Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice pop/rock scores, or even the more recent rock productions such as Spring Awakening or Rent, there is no Broadway flare to Lizzie, despite Richard Mickey Courtney’s period costumes, Terre Steeds hair and makeup and Daniel Black’s scene-setting lighting design. When the four talented women stand in line behind their mics, facing the audience and belting at full blast, Lizzie looks less like a musical and more like an interpretive, ninety-minute rock concert. It’s as if seventies producer/manager Kim Fowley matured and wrote a concept double-album for The Runaways.
A/C Theatre Company’s aim is to give local Phoenix audiences an opportunity to enjoy contemporary musicals not always seen in the valley. This is the group’s third production. On the evidence of Saturday night’s sold-out performance, with Lizzie and these four enormously engaging talents behind the mic stands, the company has not only chosen the consummate vehicle to show what can be achieved on a restricted budget and a small cast, it’s upped its game. Like those forty whacks, Lizzie comes at you at full speed with the power of a dangerous weapon and knocks you right out of your Hardes Theatre seat. It’s a literal blast.
Pictures courtesy of Redline Designs
For more regarding times, dates and tickets, CLICK HERE for the A/C Theatre Company website