BWW CD Reviews: LIZZIE Haunts and Soars

I can't pinpoint the date that the musical LIZZIE first made a bleep on my radar, but I do know that by June 16, 2013, I was dying to hear the album. Living in Houston, Texas, I missed the LIZZIE pre-release listening party at Bowery Electric. Feeling as though Andrew Borden himself were locking me away from the album, my anticipation of the anachronistic hard-rock score left me dreaming of bloody axes and Victorian ladies turned punk-rock goddesses singing their hearts out. Luckily, after roughly four months of anticipation, I finally got my hands on LIZZIE, a theatrical concept double album, and I couldn't be more blown away.

From the straining and broken opening chords of the prologue to the gleefully riotous curtain music, both a rendition of the Lizzie Borden jump-rope rhyme set to music, the Music by Steven Cheslik-deMeyer and Alan Stevens Hewitt with Additional Music by Tim Maner and Orchestrations by Alan Stevens Hewitt will leave you grinning from ear to ear. This musical has all the right ammunition and attitude to make the modern rock sound feel perfectly at home in its 1892 setting.

LIZZIE is touted as a hard-rock musical, and I feel this somewhat gives the wrong impression. Much like The Who's TOMMY and Andrew Lloyd Webber's JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, LIZZIE takes cues from the world of rock and roll but manipulates these elements into something theatrical. When you pop LIZZIE into your stereo, you won't be hearing the likes of Anthrax and Pantera. Instead, you'll get voluminous and vibrant electric guitars and raucously rhythmic percussion under the lens of musical theatre. The pulsating score is informed by rock but should also be palatable to those who like musicals a little more traditional. Epic chord progressions and vocalizations sweep and soar across both discs, but they're given a more alternative flair.

Lyrically, Steven Cheslik-deMeyer, Tim Maner, and Alan Stevens Hewitt strike a ferocious yet empowering vein. The authors' in-depth research found that Lizzie Borden had a fondness for her pet pigeons; therefore, it is no surprise that prevailing across the discs are metaphors where flying birds are likened to the freedom. The idea of flight is often equated to escaping the horrors that occur behind closed and locked doors in the Borden household. While most of us aren't subject to incestuous sexual advances and even rape, these lyrics of pining for something better resonate within us all. When not as serious and poetic, the lyrics are witty and fun. Bridget, the Borden's maid, is often granted some dark tongue-in-cheek humor that is sure to make listeners chuckle.

Singing the titular role, Carrie Manolakos is simply superb. Whether belting or deftly using quiet restraint, her voice truly dazzles. On the recording, Carrie Manolakos' Lizzie starts off in a stupor-like daze, plaintively singing numbers like the softly chilling "This Is Not Love." As things grow darker, a tangible shift occurs within her character, making her performances on "The Soul of the White Bird" and "Shattercane &Velvet Grass" more edgy and haunting. By the end of the second disc, she is belting on gripping numbers like "Thirteen Days in Taunton" and "Maybe Someday (Reprise 2)." Then, on the finale, "Into Your Wildest Dreams," Carrie Manolakos sublimely soars.

Offering support, Storm Large (one of my favorite contestant from CBS's Rock Star: Supernova) as Emma Borden, Carrie Cimma as Bridget, and Ryah Nixon as Alice are all fantastic. Each of these women brings a powerful snarl and magnifying charisma to their role, leaving listeners giddy in their wakes. Stand out performances include Storm Large on "Sweet Little Sister," "Burn the Old Thing Up," and "Watchmen for the Morning," Carrie Cimma on "Mercury Rising" and "The Fall of the House of Borden," and Ryah Nixon on "If You Knew," "Maybe Someday," and "Questions Questions."

The only disappointment concerning LIZZIE's studio cast album is that it is needlessly two-discs. The 28 tracks have a total runtime of 1 hour and 19 minutes, making them easily fit on a standard 80 min/700 MB CD-R. Despite this, the beautiful packaging and having each act preserved on its own disc pleases on an aesthetic level. The tri-fold design of the packaging and the splitting of each disc after track 7 on the back of the jacket invokes memories of the vinyl era of music, giving this album an appreciated throwback feel.

When it comes to brand spanking new musicals, LIZZIE's theatrical concept double album is one of the best I have ever had the joy of listening to. Since the music first arrived on my doorstep, I have been unable to listen to anything else. The music plays on repeat in my car and on my computer. The catchy hooks, memorable lyrics, and rollicking score have been rejuvenating and energizing company. I'm not looking forward to putting this album down to review another.



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David Clarke David Clarke has had a lifelong love and passion for the performing arts, and has been writing about theatre both locally and nationally for years. He joined BroadwayWorld.com running their Houston site in early 2012 and began writing as the site's official theatre recording critic in June of 2013.