“In the house of Borden, there’s a lock on every door”
I’d be fibbing if I tried to claim that rock is my kind of music. Although even as I say that, I’ve a residual fondness for the big hair and tunes of Heart from my childhood, Skunk Anansie figured large in my teenage years, and seeing Peaches live at the Astoria is one of my all time live music highlights, so evidently I’m more partial to (female) rock than I instinctively realise.
And maybe it’s just my frame of reference but elements of all three intermittently came to mind in Lizzie, written by Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer, Alan Stevens Hewitt and Tim Maner. The storytelling of opener ‘The House of Borden’ is rooted in melodious soft rock, Eden Espinisa’s extraordinary vocal can’t help but bring to mind Skin at her fiercest and the chants of Somebody Will Do Something’ felt but a breath away from ‘Fuck the Pain Away’.
So Lizzie proved to be considerably more interesting than I thought a rock musical would be, presented as something between a semi-staged musical and rock gig, it’s a striking thing indeed. That’s not to say that the score might not benefit from just a touch of tonal variety – the scintillating four part vocalisations sounded amazing but would have brought the house down if they’d been unplugged even just for a bar or two – and sonic bombast doesn’t always make for lyrical clarity.
But this way of presenting the story of Lizzie Borden, a woman tried and acquitted of the axe murder of her father and stepmother in late 19th century Massachusetts, is actually quite clever. Forgoing conventional storytelling for the purer passion of belted-out rock music connects powerfully with the intense feelings of Bjørg Gamst’s societally repressed Lizzie and the way she interacts with older sister Emma, the glorious Eden Espinosa, her friend and sometime lover (Bleu Woodward) and maid (Jodie Jacobs).
It may not be entirely clear what is happening all of the time but there’s never any doubt as to what these women are feeling and in that respect, Victoria Bussert’s production possesses a real gut-wrenching power. Greg Daniels’ choreography is stronger when it moves away from posing around the mike stand as its angular poses produce striking silhouettes and interplay with microphones suggests something of the torrid relationships here. Fierce and surprisingly good fun.