BOTTOM LINE: Lizzie Borden’s insane rock vocals and infectious energy will blow you away (if the volume doesn’t first). I seriously enjoyed this one, a cult classic in the making.
This rock musical takes you back to 1892 in Fall River, Massachusetts, when a young Lizzie Borden was accused of brutally killing her father and stepmother. You know, “Lizzie Borden took an axe, gave her mother forty whacks, When she saw what she had done, gave her father forty-one.” The musical dives deeper into the story with a full rock band, explaining her older sister's similar motives, exposing Lizzie’s unexpected relationship with her neighbor, and providing a cheeky punked-out maid who takes care of the two young girls in place of their seemingly careless parents.
Jenny Fellner plays the young Lizzie Borden, a fragile girl who likes to talk to pigeons and fool around with her neighbor in the attic. Throughout the play, she flawlessly transitions from the innocent slow-on-the-uptake Lizzie, to the psycho, dark, getting-away-with-murder Lizzie. This chick rocks. She is way fierce. She belts notes that will make your hair stand on end. The chemistry between Fellner and the neighbor, played by Marie-France Arcilla, is great; I loved their relationship. There was none of that “yea, we’re lesbians and it’s hard” crap that you might expect between two chicks. Instead, Arcilla delivers an unapologetic and haunting love song, “Will You Stay,” the most outstanding of the show’s many highlights.
Things really get stirred up in the Borden house when Lizzie’s older sister Emma, played by Lisa Birnbaum, decides to skip town for a few days after planting some “killer” ideas into Lizzie’s head. Emma and Lizzie aren’t too fond of their abusive father and money-grubbing stepmother. This part of the story could be a little meatier. I didn’t really understand if he was sexually abusive, or if the Borden girls just wanted all of Daddy’s money for themselves, or why they hated the stepmother so much. They might have sucked, but enough to deserve 40-41 whacks? But, for all intents and purposes, I don’t care. I mean, it’s a rock musical, it’s not Chekov, and you know they’re going down, the question is how. And how they died…well it’s pretty much the COOLEST DEATH SCENE EVER. It’s the perfect combination of driving rock music, blood, and wailing dissonant vocals from Carrie Cimma. Totally awesome.
The actors / script had a hard time finding the pace in the beginning of the show, but by the forth number Lizzie Borden takes off and doesn’t stop. You’ll headbang along with “Why Are All The Heads Off!?” and become entranced by “Shattercane and Velvet Glass.” There are some very Spring Awakening-esque moments: actors standing behind mikes to deliver lines and songs, very organic choreography, full rock band onstage, mixing period and postmodernism blah blah… and aside from some “Emma, where’s your skirt?” moments, I thought Lizzie Borden achieved these concepts better then Spring Awakening. It works really well in the cozy Living Theater setting.
Lizzie Borden is a really good time. The costumes are fierce, the vocals from all four ladies are fierce, the visuals are fierce and the rock music is fierce as long as you are prepared for rock concert volume (as my date pointed out “freaking drummers, man”). They had free peanut M&Ms at the bar in the theater, and it’s two acts with an intermission in one hour and forty minutes, what's not to love?
(Lizzie Borden is playing at the Living Theatre, 21 Clinton street in the Lower East Side through October 17th. Performances are Thursday through Saturday at 8pm, and Fridays & Saturdays at 10:30. Tickets are 25$ and can be purchased at www.theatermania.com. For more information, go to www.lizziebordentheshow.com).