With bright lights, projections and an on-stage rock band clearly visible, the opening of Lizzie looks more rock concert than traditional musical theatre, and the irreverent and rebellious nature of rock and roll underpins the whole show. While murderers have been portrayed in musicals before (Sweeny Todd and Chicago spring to mind), Lizzie takes the one of the first unsolved murders to take place in America in the media age, and brings it to life in a refreshing goth operatic style with passion, violence, rebellion and blood and guts strewn all over the stage by the end of act 1!
The story of Lizzie Borden and the unsolved murders of her father and step-mother have taken on a mythic character in the USA and the story retains a gruesome fascination while remaking Lizzie into an anti-heroine for the modern age – rising up against her abusers and gaining her independence (and celebrity) as she does so.
The story of a multiple murder for possible financial gain could be unsympathetic, but the combination of the powerful rock score and the gleeful performances of the female cast create a surprisingly optimistic story of mistreated women fighting back. It is clear from the opening number that there is something very wrong in the Borden home and Bjorg Gamst plays Lizzie with vulnerability and desperation as she tells the story of her father’s abuse and oppression. Her confidante is her friend Alice, played sweetly by Bleu Woodward who soon shares the secret of her own love for Lizzie, while Lizzie also shares a strong bond with her elder sister Emma, powerfully played by Broadway star Eden Espinosa. These women support and share everything, from the secrets they protect to the hand held microphones that evoke classic rock performances.
The mood is further driven by the heavy rock score and the mischief encouraged by the gleeful maid Maggie (played with a gleeful and sinister edge by Jodie Jacobs).
The tension culminates in an inventively staged murder scene at the end of act 1, in which Lizzie takes an axe to the metaphorical heads of her father and step mother and ends standing alone in the middle of the stage, dressed in white and covered in “blood” – a striking visual image which doesn’t hide the violence of these murders (even the front row are provided with plastic ponchos to protect them!)
In act 2, we see Lizzie become a minor celebrity and the women grow in strength, swapping their nineteenth century costumes for rock outfits which transcend the courthouse setting of the story. All 4 actresses perform their parts with energy and conviction and the musical reaches a powerful and moving conclusion. It is a testament to the story telling and the performances that the audience are willing them to succeed as the women dream of “flying away” and eventually gain their freedom from the oppression they have faced.
In a society in which women are still too often encouraged celebrate their strength there is something empowering about Lizzie, and the final songs raise the roof, leading to a well-deserved standing ovation. While the show might not be to everyone’s taste, it is no surprise that there already seems to be something of a cult following for this original and exciting show and it is well worth a visit to the lovely Greenwich Theatre.
|Presented by:||Fredericia Teater in assaction with Aria Entertainment|
|By:||Tim Maner, Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer and Alan Stevens Hewitt|
|Cast includes:||Bjorg Gamst, Jodie Jacobs, Eden Espinosa, Bleu Woodward|
|Performance times:||Tue-Sat 7.30pm
Sat mats 2.30pm
|Ticket prices:||£26 (Concessions £21)
(£25 & £20 ticket plus £1 booking fee)
Previews: 22 & 23 Feb, all tickets £15