Review: LIZZIE: THE ROCK MUSICAL at Actors Community Playhouse

This High Energy Rock Opera Features a Killer All Female Cast of Birmingham's Best.

By: Aug. 14, 2023
Review: LIZZIE: THE ROCK MUSICAL at Actors Community Playhouse
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True crime murder shows streaming on Netflix, and podcasts are a hot commodity with a considerable fan base. The titillation in learning all the details of what happened, who did the crime, and why is infectious. If you are in this category, you will enjoy the Actors Community Playhouse production of LIZZIE: The Rock Musical. This creative rock opera musical tells the emotionally chilling tale of the infamous Lizzie Borden, an alleged ax-wielding woman from the 1800s whose sensationalized trial landed her a permanent place in the lexicon of pop culture with the resulting poem. 

Lizzie Borden took an ax

And gave her mother forty whacks,

And when she saw what she had done,

She gave her father forty-one.

LIZZIE dives into the nuanced details of four characters connected to the infamous event. The all female cast are powerhouse actresses providing substantial character work and skilled voices in telling what "allegedly" happened in this fateful, murderous tale from history. 

Review: LIZZIE: THE ROCK MUSICAL at Actors Community Playhouse

Lizzie Borden (Cheslee Duke) is suffering sadness and crippling trauma from the abusive hands of her father and stepmother. The building tension leads Lizzie to take conflict resolution into her own hands (albeit holding an ax), violently severing the relationship with her stepmother and father. Several conspiracy theories followed over the centuries, questioning the facts of the case. 

Emma Borden (Annslyn Pilkington) is Lizzie's dutiful and protective sister. She concocts a scheme to address the parental abuse that will yield financial gain. In real life, Lizzie and Emma inherited $350,000 from their father's estate, equating to $10 million today. 

Review: LIZZIE: THE ROCK MUSICAL at Actors Community Playhouse

Maggie (Sara James) is the wise, sharp, comical housekeeper for the Bordens who sees and knows all that goes on under the roof. She is an ally to the Borden sisters, carrying the kind of love and devotion one would help kill for, literally.  

Alice (Lillian Murphree) is Lizzie's dearest friend. She cares for her with a loving heart. They share a bonding friendship that is blooming into something more. Alice becomes emotionally entangled in the events that play out in the Borden home. The resulting conflict places her in moral jeopardy.   

LIZZIE is a musical similar to The Who's "Tommy" or Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd." The singing of dialogue provides a suspenseful drive of the plot, giving the necessary energy for an emotional performance. Each number holds your attention with tension, building suspense. You are captivated right from the jump. 

Review: LIZZIE: THE ROCK MUSICAL at Actors Community Playhouse

The driving rock opera music in LIZZIE is composed by Steven Cheslik-Demeyer and Alan Stevens Hewitt; lyrics by Cheslik-Demeyer and Tim Maner; book by Tim Maner. The powerful songs are gritty, raucous, comical, and melancholy. Musical director Jennifer Hartsell leads a killer band featuring Granville "Cash" Cotton, Tyler May, and Ken Adams. They provide a rousing genre of rock and haunting ballads. Songs have a vibe going from Joan Jett to Evanescence. 

The macabre, minimalist set successfully provides the intimate space with a dark volume with haunting allure. The stage comprises a series of mismatched doors, giving a nightmarish feeling. It is as if the doors in "Monsters, Inc" led to Freddy Kruger's home on Elm Street.

The singing in this production is incredibly impressive. Each actress brings honed vocal technique and sustaining strength to each song. You will find tight harmonies, fun arrangements, emotional resonance, and power ballads with a roller coaster range. 

Cheslee Duke gives Lizzie a layered and compelling performance. She skillfully provides the high energy necessary for her substantial range going from crippling panic to maniacal glee. Duke's performance carries you into Lizzie's unsettled mind. 

Annslyn Pilkington (also the show's director) gives Emma a solid and assertive voice with power. Her voice has an attitudinal sharpness that is a suited fit for a rock star. 

Alice (Lillian Murphree provides Alice with a loving voice suffering from being emotionally and morally split in half. Murphee conveys an effective range of sweetness to coldness. 

Sara James delivers Maggie with a solid vocal foundation that resonates throughout the performance. James has a powerful, narrative voice that gives more than what the lyrics are; she makes you feel what they mean with surgical precision.   

Review: LIZZIE: THE ROCK MUSICAL at Actors Community Playhouse

This production builds up the pressure with each song. The evolution of the show grows from the first into the second act. Annslyn Pilkington's direction and staging effectively make this performance stand out with creativity. The pieces and production values are beautiful. The costumes, lighting, and set each give a proper setting for the show. The spotty sound could have been better during the performance. Mic's kept popping in and out. Hopefully, it is an easy fix. Sara James took it in stride and filled the space with her skilled vocal training. 

LIZZIE: The Rock Musical is a fun, emotional, and dynamic show that should be enjoyed by all that appreciate good mysteries and those with an appetite for rock music and great intimate theatre. The enjoyable performance is only running this weekend. Getting tickets is easy, but getting Lizzie's poem out of your head is not.

Actors Community Playhouse 

LIZZIE: The Rock Musical 

hosted at Birmingham Festival Theatre.

1901 1/2 11th Avenue South Birmingham, AL 35205

Aug 10-13

General Admission: $20 - Student: $10



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