Review: Street Theater Company Comes Roaring Back With LIZZIE: THE MUSICAL at Darkhorse Theatre

Four Powerful Women Bring the Rock Opera to Life Through 11/6

By: Oct. 24, 2021
Review: Street Theater Company Comes Roaring Back With LIZZIE: THE MUSICAL at Darkhorse Theatre
Delaney Amatrudo as Lizzie Borden

Harry Kendall Thaw. Nathan Freudenthal Leopold Jr. and Richard Albert Loeb. Richard Bruno Hauptmann. All were accused during the first third of the 20th century of sensational murders, perpetrated during what journalists at the time described as the "crime of the century" - rollicking, no-holds-barred media circuses that helped to define a particular brand of American justice, the effects of which continue to be felt today.

But those men, who comprise a rogue's gallery of infamy wrought by a frenzied public caught up by the scandal and spectacle of heinous crimes were not the first of their kind. Rather, you'd need to cast your gaze onto media reports of grisly murders in the last decade of the previous century - 1892, to be precise - to learn the impact of the public outcry that surrounded coverage of the bloody deaths of a middle-aged couple in their home in Fall River, Massachusetts, which transformed public fascination with crime into a full-throttled industry fueled by rampant gossip and wild speculation.

Lizzie Borden, who maintained her innocence of the axe murders of her father and stepmother until the day she died in 1927, was very possibly the progenitor of every piece of tabloid journalism that continues to titillate readers to this very day. Who better than she then to become the protagonist in a provocative work of musical theater that lays bare all the rumors that surrounded her in life and which gives her agency over her own story almost a hundred years after her death?

Review: Street Theater Company Comes Roaring Back With LIZZIE: THE MUSICAL at Darkhorse Theatre
Delaney Amatrudo and Hannah Arn

That, gentle readers, is exactly what propels Lizzie: The Musical to dizzying heights of operatic tragedy and travail to herald the return of Nashville's Street Theatre Company to the world of in-person, live performance during a three-weekend run (October 22-November 6) at Darkhorse Theater. Directed by Leslie Marberry and starring a quartet of capable actresses/powerhouse vocalists who bring their characters to life with anger, rage, authenticity and alacrity, Lizzie: The Musical is one of those shows that audiences will be talking about for a very long time to come. So, heed my advice and get your tickets now - there are only so many chances to see the show.

With music by Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer and Alan Stevens Hewitt, lyrics by Cheslik-DeMeyer and Tim Maner, with a book by Maner (additional music by Maner and additional lyrics by Hewitt, based on an original concept by Messrs. Cheslik-DeMeyer and Maner), Lizzie: The Musical traces its theatrical lineage back to 2009 and a production at New York City's The Living Theater. The creative team has taken the disparate elements found amidst all the gossip and innuendo, speculation and legend that surrounds Lizzie Borden's life and alleged crimes and misdemeanors in order to meld everything into a rock opera that surprises and alarms to give full voice to all the stuff of which tabloid dreams are made.

In the Street Theatre Company production, director Marberry and musical director Lee Druce have assembled a crackerjack team to give Lizzie and company their due. Clearly, this isn't your grandma's musical theatre or your great-grandfather's opera -a new musical has rarely seemed so contemporary as Lizzie: The Musical.

Review: Street Theater Company Comes Roaring Back With LIZZIE: THE MUSICAL at Darkhorse Theatre
Caitlyn Porayko and Delaney Amatrudo

Credit for that certainly goes to the composers and lyricists responsible for helping Lizzie to finally tell her story after all this time, but in this particularly successful iteration, you can't help but be awestruck by the performances of the four-woman company assembled to take on the roles of Lizzie, her sister Emma, her neighbor and confidante Alice Russell and the Borden family maid Bridget, most often referred to as Maggie because, well, the Bordens were jerks.

The creators of the piece allow Lizzie to maintain her innocence during scenes from her 1893 trial (and she was found not guilty, after all, thanks to a slipshod police investigation and public perceptions of nice girls being unable to actually hack their parents to death with a hatchet), yet they employ all the speculative conjecture about Lizzie - her father physically and sexually abused her, she was in a lesbian relationship with Alice Russell, she was in cahoots with her sister to plot their parents' demise and she was guilty as sin - while hewing closely to history, as we've come to know it over the past century-plus, of what really happened.

Delaney Amatrudo, who local audiences have known from the time she was in middle school was destined to become a musical theater star, fills Lizzie Borden with so much passion, that it's a wonder the fire marshal hasn't shut the place down yet. Amatrudo's vocals will pin your ears back with her power, yet she is able to make Lizzie's emotions turn on a dime - going from pliant and innocent to a raging hellion with the slightest gesture. Her performance is fully indicative of all the promise she's shown throughout her time on local stages.

Review: Street Theater Company Comes Roaring Back With LIZZIE: THE MUSICAL at Darkhorse Theatre
Mileah Milstead

The angelic Caitlyn Porayko, as beautiful as any Victorian-era porcelain doll (my apologies for employing such a sexist stereotype, but it seems fitting considering the 19th century vintage of the story), upends the expected portrayal of period gentility by infusing Alice Russell with a gritty calculation and frank sexuality that proves her equal to Lizzie.

As Emma Borden, Lizzie's older sister, Hannah Arn gives a fiercely ferocious performance as she plots and ponders what will become of them if they set their nefarious plan into motion; it's noteworthy to remember that Emma was believed by many to have been the actual murderer despite the fact she was conveniently out of town at the time of the crime. Kudos to Arn for singing my favorite song from the piece, the apropos of everything "What the Fuck, Lizzie?"

Mileah Milstead is delightfully droll and duplicitous as Bridget/Maggie (some historians argue that Lizzie's lover was in actuality the family maid rather than Alice Russell and that it was her stepmother's discovery of the two mid-tryst, as it were, that precipitated the bloody denouement) and serves as the conduit for every audience member to find their way directly into the action that transpires onstage.

Review: Street Theater Company Comes Roaring Back With LIZZIE: THE MUSICAL at Darkhorse Theatre
Caitlyn Porayko

The show begins with a period-perfect, almost idyllic, grace before quickly shifting gears into full-bore rock concert - a theatrical conceit that could be unwieldy under the guide of lesser talents - but it works to grand effect here and the non-stop energy of the entire piece ensures the audience is captivated from start to finish. It's a hell of a ride! Thanks to Druce and his musicians for providing the same level of commitment as the vocalists.

Mycah Kennedy designs the costumes for the four women, which obviously help each one to divine just who it is she is playing, and Cassie Hamilton provides a set design that serves as the perfect backdrop for the musical's non-stop action. Kristen DuBois' evocative lighting design is among the best we've seen at the Darkhorse ever and Sarah Levis designs the swell props.

Lizzie: The Musical. Music by Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer and Alan Stevens Hewitt. Lyrics by Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer and Tim Maner. Book by Tim Maner. Additional music by Tim Maner. Additional lyrics by Alan Stevens Hewitt. Based on an original concept by Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer and Tim Maner. Orchestrations by Alan Stevens Hewitt. Directed by Leslie Marberry. Musical direction by Lee Druce. Stage managed by Maya Denning. Presented by Street Theatre Company at Darkhorse Theater, Nashville. Through November 6. For tickets and for further details (including STC's Covid-19 protocols), go to Running time: 2 hours, with one 15-minute intermission.

Photos by Nylah Bannister


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