Monday, May 01, 2017

“Lizzie,” the grizzly musical, rocks the Ohio

“On a sweltering summer morning in 1892, in a small New England city, a prominent businessman and his wife were brutally axed to death in their home. Their daughter, Lizzie Borden, was the prime suspect. Lizzie’s trial was a coast-to-coast media sensation, and her story has become an American legend.

Yes, that’s the Lizzie of the poem: “Lizzie Borden took an ax and gave her mother forty-whacks.  When she saw what she had done, gave her father forty-one.”

The grizzly tale just finished a run on stage in the Ohio Theatre courtesy of Baldwin Wallace College’s Musical Theater Program in coordination with Playhouse Square.  Interestingly, this not the first go-around for the duo’s production of the script.  In 2012 the same team worked together to sell out the now shuttered 12th Street Theatre.

“Lizzie” is a rage, sex, betrayal, and bloody murder, set to a blistering score presented by four women fronting a six-piece band.

Rock tunes which scream lesbian heat and incest, interspersed with grisly humor make up the score with such heavy metal tunes as “Forty Whacks,” “This is not Love,” “Why are all these Heads Off,” “What the Fuck now, Lizzie,” “Will You Lie?” and “Into Your Wildest Dreams.”

“Lizzie” began life in 1990 as a four-song experimental theater/rock show created by writer/director Tim Maner and songwriter Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer. 

A few years later, they wrote six new songs.  After several more years of tinkering, 2012 brought the co-production by Baldwin-Wallace College and Cleveland’s PlayhouseSquare (directed by Victoria Bussert).

Most recently, earlier this year, Bussert directed a production in Denmark (in Danish) and in the UK (in English).

The present version is being staged with two casts, each staring for two performances.  The Friday and late Saturday productions featured the “Blood” cast and will be commented on in this review.  The other stagings featured the “Axe” cast (Olivia Kaufman, Emily Brett, Kelsey Baehrens and Amy Keum).

As evidenced by the enthusiastic Ohio Theatre audience, the show, which is as much a rock concert as musical theater, has strong appeal to the Millennials, those born from 1990 until 2000 and the 2K’s, those born after 2000.  They were on their feet screaming and stomping after many of the songs, often imitating the hair-whipping, body angled, hand gesturing stylized movements of the cast members.  The elders in attendance didn’t seem to be “with it” in the same frenzied way.

The BW cast was excellent.  They exhibited strong voices, great enthusiasm and consistent awareness of their roles and the over-all mood of the piece.  However, for those who like to hear and understand the words to the songs being sung, the excessive screaming and high decibel music, along with the loud pounding beat of the band, there was frustration.  Many of the words were lost to the volume of both voices and the music. 

Kailey Boyle exhibited a powerful voice with a large range.  Her saucer eyes helped create the often manic mood swings of Lizzie.  Her rock persona, displayed in many of the songs, was captivating to watch.

Veronica Otim has an electric stage presence.  She also displayed a diva voice, but often her words, both spoken and sung, were unintelligible due to excessive yelling. 

Livvy Marcus was properly introverted as Alice Russell, Lizzie’s female lover. She displayed good vocal ability and nice song interpretation.

Emily Wronski has a nice sense of comic timing and was convincing as Bridget Sullivan.

Matthew Webb’s band rocked, Gregory Daniels’ choreography rolled, and the entire production was murderous!

Capsule judgment: “Lizzie,” the rock musical, based on the Lizzie Borden murder mystery, is as much rock concert as theatre, represents the movement in musicals to take on modern trends in music, e.g., rock and rap, and appeal to a younger, modish audience. 

This production was staged at the Ohio Theatre from April 28-30, 2017.