Thought you knew the story of Lizzie Borden? Think again. This refreshing new production of rock musical Lizzie is the finest masterclass in how to portray a murder story. Forget the six merry murderesses of Chicago – the four powerfully talented leading ladies of Lizzie are the new powerhouse of musical theatre feminism.
Lizzie Borden, renowned for being tried and acquitted for the axe murders of her father and stepmother in 1892, tells her tale in raging new fashion, bringing the many theories surrounding the true story to light through a mighty soundtrack of rock ballads. Deception, suppression, incest and homosexuality are explored in bloody and frank narrative of the killings and trial.
The production is largely minimalist, choosing to place focus on the classic rock elements – the sound and the visual. Heavy music, blazing lighting and sparingly-used graphics are put to great effect. You are immediately hit with a wall of light and sound and the energy doesn’t let up until the last. The cast sublimely weave in the theatrical element with Victoria Bussert’s direction but the clever use of microphones reminds you that this is, put simply, the ultimate alternative gig.
Steven Cheslik-Demeyer’s and Alan Stevens Hewitt’s music is the shining beacon of this show, fantastically amplified by solid band and four outstanding performers. Bjorg Gamst, who originated the title role at the Frederica Theatre, commands the almost schizophrenic Lizzie Borden, seamlessly showcasing her vulnerability while similarly allowing herself to become the unhinged murderer. Bleu Woodward, playing her love interest Alice Russell, handles the suspecting change in her character with ease and grasps the love songs with Bjorg by the horns producing some great moments.
Playing Emma Borden, the canniving older sister of Lizzie, Eden Espinosa is a truly expert vocalist, and it was unfortunate that her character didn’t allow for more stage time. Each time she lifted her microphone she commanded the theatre with her voice. It’s hard to separate when the standards are this high but Jodie Jacobs as the Borden’s maid Bridget Sullivan might just have tipped it. Stunningly awesome vocals paired with a quick-witted, comical character, Jodie drew the eye and ear throughout, seemingly crafting the twisted plot.
Simplistic staging is a hidden hero of this show, however when it comes to the actual murders you find it all a tad underwhelming. The tone has been set and you expect a little more theatrical vulgarity after an hour of intense, brazen, in-your-face performance. When the front row are given plastic ponchos you expect a little more than what you actually get. They could get away with completely unleashing the ‘blood’ and going a little crazy – it would work here.
Although that’s a minor issue and barely detracts from what is a class production. It has to be seen live. It is truly wonderful to see four intensely powerful and talented women rock a stage with unapologetic tenacity. We need more productions that showcase women like this on UK stages.
The UK premiere of Lizzie plays at the Greenwich Theatre for just 20 performances until Sunday 12th March. Tickets are available here.
Gratefully written thanks to Theatre Bloggers and the #LDNTheatreBloggers.
Photo credits: Soren Malmose