BWW Review: A Murderess Is Made In A/C Theatre's LIZZIE
Musical theatre's perhaps most popular female character is the ingenue: sweet, love-struck, and demure. She is the pinnacle of femininity and the object of adoration. But what happens when the ingenue is thrust into a pressure cooker fantasia? What happens when she is manipulated, abused, raped, and broken by the people meant to adore her?
And so comes LIZZIE: The Musical.
"Lizzie Borden took an axe, and gave her mother forty whacks; when she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one." This grim folk tune is based off of the infamy of Lizzie Andrew Borden, who was tried and acquitted in 1892 for murdering her father and step-mother in Fall River, Massachusetts.
A/C Theatre Company takes the reigns from creators Steven Cheslik-deMeyer, Tim Maner, and Alan Stevens Hewitt, and depicts LIZZIE: The Musical, a phenomenon with head-banging rock music, haunting four-part harmonies, and refreshing feminist motifs. Directed by Kim Richard and Tim Shawver, A/CTC's production of LIZZIE evades the risk of falling into standard rock concert format, transcends typical musical theatre, and perfectly presents a jarring portrayal of a normal girl groomed into an axe-wielding murderess.
Megan Moylan is an absolute phenom as Lizzie. She portrays Lizzie's character arc from helpless victim to malevolent killer seamlessly. Moylan's emotional chasm allows her to play both helpless and vengeful in numbers such as the stirring (and personal favorite) "This Is Not Love," in which she laments over the physical and emotional rape and torment she has endured under her father. Moylan's subtext tends to stupefy, leading the viewer to wonder whether Lizzie is fully aware of her manipulation, or if she is merely mindlessly mimicking her father's abusive behavior. Moylan's emotional range stuns, and leaves the viewer both heartbroken and sympathetic.
Who is to blame for Lizzie's development from the abused to the abuser? The show suggests Lizzie's older sister, Emma, played exceptionally by Lauren McKay (who I ran into at a Barnes & Noble cafe once). McKay commands the stage with an aggressive swagger and forthright demeanor. McKay ideally manifests the manipulative Emma, highlighted by a concussive moral disconnect between numbers "Sweet Little Sister" and "What the F**k Now, Lizzie?"
The object of Lizzie's affection is alleged lover Alice, played by extraordinary Cassie Chilton. What could have disintegrated into a watered-down love affair is instead a strong, sapphic commentary on gender roles and expectations in the 1800's, brilliantly executed by Chilton. Her ringing soprano voice in "If You Knew" displays both her character's affection for Lizzie, as well as her fear their secret will be revealed to the world. Although clearly in love, Chilton's portrayal makes it clear Alice is not blind, as Alice embraces her role as moral compass and delivers testimony to help prosecute Lizzie.
In a refreshing contrast, housemaid Bridget, hilariously played by Heather Fallon, is entirely amused by the Borden family downfall. Bridget serves both as narrator and deviant, willing to turn a blind-eye to the goings-on of the Borden household. It is obvious Fallon has a blast playing Bridget, utilizing side-eye glances, mischievous grins, and exasperated eye-rolls to help bridge the gap between the audience and the show. Fallon makes the show that much more relatable, by offering juxtaposed humor and a dose of reality to the other more serious characters.
The stand-out of this show is the exceptional four-part harmonies. Each performer is a vocal powerhouse; their blend is hauntingly beautiful, and at multiple times I found myself head-nodding (head-banging) along to the music. Alan Ruch's musical direction creates an exemplary anthem of musical theatre rock, and Casey Weiler's sound design is impeccable, and makes certain no sound or vocal overwhelms another, which is often an issue in these kinds of performances.
The elevated set is designed by Greg Hynes, complete with angled railings and door frames, allowing actors and stagehands to move in and out with ease. The beautiful costumes by Richard Mickey Courtney are representative of the time period with some modern effects, particularly in the second act when the actors are donned in modern rock star dress. Terre Steed's hair and makeup is part-tradition, part-rock 'n' roll with slicked back braids and heavily winged eyeliner, representative of the fantasia. Daniel Black's lighting further emphasizes the rock concert vibe with spotlights for solo numbers and dramatic changes during more evocative numbers.
LIZZIE is an absolute gem, and will undoubtedly bridge the gap between conventional theatre goers and rock music fanatics. LIZZIE showcases what can happen when women are thrust into a societal pressure cooker, and when conventional laws of order and justice are exchanged for bloodlust and revenge.
A/C Theatre's production of LIZZIE: The Musical continues its run at Phoenix Theatre's Hardes Theatre through August 27.
Photo credit to Redline Designs