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BWW Review: Splendid Cast Is the Reason to See SPINDLE CITY

Spindle City: The Lizzie Borden Musical

/book, lyrics and music by Katrina Wood/directed by Trace Oakley/Secret Rose Theatre, NoHo/through November 5

Lizzie Borden took an ax.

And gave her mother 40 whacks.

When she saw what she had done,

She gave her father 41.

I have heard this little double couplet poem since childhood, and have always been terrified by it, so, if I see a story depicted about accused murderess Lizzie Borden of Fall River, Massachusetts, I expect two people to end up corpses, her stepmother and her father. In the new musical by Katrina Wood Spindle City: The Lizzie Borden Musical, now playing at the Secret Rose Theatre, only her father's murder is enacted. But... Lizzie loved her father, in spite of his intolerable business tactics, and... despised her money-hungry stepmother. Does this omission of her murder from the retelling of the infamous story make any sense? Hardly. But that's just one of the problems plaguing this uneven musical at the Secret Rose through November 5.

I grew up in prim and proper Massachusetts. In 1800s New England, small-town murders, particularly of this lurid type, were unthinkable. Crimes like this just didn't happen. When this one did in 1892, it threw everyone in an uproar. Accused Elizabeth Andrew Borden was never convicted due to sufficient reasonable doubt, and almost 125 years later, the crime still remains unsolved. Many books, films, and TV movies later, with a raft of theories propagated, it's anyone's guess how Miss Borden - like O J Simpson a century later - got away with it! There was no proof of illegal entry and no one else was in the house but Lizzie and the maid Bridget, who certainly had no motive, yet a jury let her off. After the murders, she chose to remain in Fall River and became the object of gossip and ridicule. This kind of stuff would make a perfect musical, you say! Well, yes, unbridled passion is at the core, and if handled properly with the right kind of intensely dramatic music and suspenseful storytelling, it might just work. Unfortunately, as I already said, you won't find it here. Miss Wood cannot seem to make up her mind if the material should be treated seriously or satirically, at least at the top. There's a song where townspeople sing and dance center stage with fake energetic gusto. and the whole issue of 'City of Gold', 'the Midas Touch' of Fall River's growing textile industry comes off as a joke, almost sheer camp. Later, in Act II, the play takes on a much more serious tone when a mill burns down and children's lives are lost, but at that point, we are practically in disbelief about what we are watching - is it a nightmare? - so it's a little late to redeem itself.

The one good thing about this show is its terrific cast. They give their all to try to make things work. Emily Bridges is always stellar with great presence, voice and oozing truth from every pore. She does what she can to show Lizzie's crazed state, a woman scorned, and one who will fight bitterly for a cause. In this case it's immigrant children who are working illegally in the textile mills putting in ungodly hours for little or no wages when they should be in school. Along the way Lizzie meets Nance O'Neil (Kristin Towers-Rowles), a Broadway actress, who invites her to come to New York and spend time with her. Lizzie's rumored tendency toward lesbianism is a fact, as presented by playwright Wood. Rowles is another delightful performer who brings so much to her character. She makes the phony Nance come to life with verve, false charm and utter insincerity. Chas Mitchell plays Andrew Jackson Borden, Lizzie's father, keeping him somewhat of an enigma. We should hate him, but he's a puzzlement. Jazmine Ramay is another standout as Abby Borden, Andrew's second wife and Lizzie's stepmother. She has a field day with the character's despicably snobbish attitude toward everyone especially Lizzie. She expresses her feelings about Lizzie's future in a flamenco-style number that comes out of nowhere, and has no thyme or reason as a song... but she executes it deliciously. Also standing out are Rowan Treadway, quite the song and dance man as Tommy Thompson , Rick Simone, as the devious uncle John Morse and Paul Wong in a variety of roles. Let's not forget the children Makayla Rowles as Molly, Alex Jebb-Quine as Billy and Christian Simon as Joey.They are quite effective dramatically in riveting moments of Act II.

Spindle City is unfocused as a musical. The songs are mostly lackluster; even the ballads for Lizzie are not particularly pleasant to listen to. Bridges does her best, but the poignancy is not there. Trace Oakley directs the proceedings adequately and set design by Aaron Glazer, costumes by Taylor Moten and choreography by Averi Yorek are all above standard. It's the show that's at fault, so back to the drawing board and let's decide the direction to take. There's plenty of good drama for a play, but musically, take out the abundant pieces that do not fit

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From This Author Don Grigware