BWW Reviews: A Trial from the Beginning LIZZIE BORDEN A NEW MUSICAL at Theatre Downtown

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Orlando is no stranger to high-profile murder trials, so sensationalism hits home with the true life tale of LIZZIE BORDEN. Set to a pretty score with music composed by Rich Charron, book and lyrics by Michael Wanzie, and new arrangements by John B. deHaas, all Orlando residents, this original production is a comedic musical biography. LIZZIE BORDEN promises to be a hit for regional theaters.

The story begins before the murders as the two Borden sisters grow up in Fall River, Massachusetts during the late 1800s. Lizzie's sister Emma promises their dying mother to look after baby Lizzie. Growing up, their oppressive and frugal father dotes on young Lizzie, leaving Emma in The Shadows. Years later, Mr. Borden remarries and grants his new wife's request to be included in his will, thus sparking Lizzie's outrage. Glossing over Lizzie's transformation from sweet daughter to vengeful woman, the story then focuses on Lizzie on trial and her life after acquittal. It seems that even back then juries could be easily swayed by the logic of expensive lawyers.

Finally living a life of luxury, Lizzie meets and falls for actress Nance O'Neil, despite her sister's warning. Tired of being in Lizzie's shadow, Emma decides to leave Fall River and the two ladies part. There is a narrator, a newspaper reporter, who interjects at random points to remind the audience that media, even newspapers, need stories like Lizzie's to make a profit.

The show suffers from a musical identity crisis. Mixing a dark story with undertones of child sexual abuse, parental murder, and class struggles with songs more reflective of a coming-of-age story starring Lizzie Borden as the ingenue. There are a few memorable musical numbers, but mostly pretty lyrical pieces spersed with the occasional funny upbeat song. At times, the solos seemed jigsawed into the plot, though the duets and company numbers were well put together. The crowd loved the second act's "My Secret Song" sung by Nance O'Neil, which reflected the taboo surrounding Lizzie post-trial life.

Adult Lizzie is played well by Andrea Canny given the mixture of emotions she must portray. Her stoic sister, Emma, played by Rebecca Fisher, gives a passionate performance as the stronger duty-bound woman. The ladies are likeable, but it is easier to follow Emma's growth into angry old woman, than Lizzie's. Young Lizzie and Young Emma, played by Kennedy Joy Foristall and Carly Swain respectively, were powerhouse singers and probably should have been utilized more to fill out the plot.

Andrew Borden played by Frank McClain was terrifically dark with a singing voice to match. Then there's Nance O'Neil, an opulent stage actress, whose larger-than-life personality could only be matched by the actress playing her, Blue. Everytime Nance enters onstage, the mood changes and it is a delight to watch her perform.

While the scenes of late 1800's matched well with the period costumes and furniture, there is not one trace of a Bostonian accent to be heard, seemingly odd to anyone who has been within 50 miles of the Fall Rivers area. Despite its minor misses, this homegrown musical is worth seeing.

Directed by Kenny Howard and in collaboration with Wanzie Presents, LIZZIE BORDEN plays Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8 PM, with Sunday matinees at 2:30 PM now through September 8th. For tickets and more information, please visit

Photo Credit: Kirk Wood

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From This Author Kimberly Moy