‘Lizzie: The Mu­si­cal’ swings hard in Fort Lauderdale

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - Showtime - Palm Beach - - ON STAGE - By Rod Stafford Hag­wood

Oh, the glee of a mur­der spree. OK, that isn’t re­ally the thrust of Think­ing Cap The­atre’s “Lizzie: The Mu­si­cal,” but you would be for­given for think­ing that is the spirit of the mu­si­cal play­ing through Nov. 4 at Van­guard Sanc­tu­ary for the Arts in Fort Lauderdale.

That’s be­cause the retelling of the true crime story — you know the grisly rhyme: Lizzie Bor­den took an axe and gave her mother 40 whacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave her fa­ther 41 — is rau­cous and rag­ing and clearly de­lighted with its in­nate re­bel­lion.

And yet as wild as the show is, di­rec­tor and cos­tumer Ni­cole Sto­dard keeps it all from wan­der­ing into campy ter­ri­tory. The dark hu­mor doesn’t re­ally bub­ble to the sur­face un­til the sec­ond act. By then, she and her we-got-thispinned-down cast have suc­cess­fully lay­ered in themes of fem­i­nism, queer pol­i­tics, in­cest, sex and, as you may well imag­ine, fam­ily dys­func­tion.

“Lizzie: The Mu­si­cal” started out in 1990 as a four-song bit of ex­per­i­men­tal theater. From one in­car­na­tion to another, the piece — writ­ten by Tim Maner with songs by Steven Ch­es­lik-DeMeyer, and later Alan Stevens He­witt — ex­panded into the 90-minute show (with a 15-minute in­ter­mis­sion) pre­sented here. Some­how, these three men have cap­tured some of the seething fla­vor of riot gr­rrl, the un­der­ground fem­i­nist­punk move­ment, in the dis­cor­dant score.

Over 24 songs, all sung by the four-mem­ber cast in front of a five-piece band, we get a fic­tion­al­ized pic­ture of what pos­si­bly went down in 1892 at the Bor­den home in Fall River, Mass. The fam­ily’s youngest daugh­ter, Lizzie Bor­den (Ann Marie Ol­son), is com­ing un­done. Her tyran­ni­cal fa­ther and hated step­mother — un­seen but rep­re­sented by two sil­hou­et­ted pic­tures framed on a wall up­stage — are mak­ing her life hell. She is be­ing sex­u­ally abused by her fa­ther. While sis­ter Emma (Sab­rina Gore) em­pathizes and clearly re­sents her fa­ther and hates her step­mother, she, too, is pow­er­less (keep in mind that it’s 1892), and she’s seem­ingly un­able to con­sole her sib­ling. So Lizzie finds so­lace in neigh­bor Alice Rus­sell (Leah Sessa), es­cap­ing to a barn to­gether where the bit­ter­ness of un­re­quited love rears up. Watch­ing all this with wry eyes, is the house­hold maid, Brid­get Sul­li­van (Han­nah Richter).

Strate­gi­cally us­ing the black box space of the Van­guard, this pro­duc­tion doesn’t waste a square foot with the set or the block­ing. Even the band pulls dou­ble duty, fill­ing in as judge and ju­rors at Lizzie’s trial. Think­ing Cap’s stag­ing grasps the un­set­tling, stom­ach-churn­ing dread that wafts through the whole show, like smoke from a fire creep­ing ever closer. The women sing with fullthroated skill, even if the sound mix some­times mud­dies the lyrics. And while some of the hairthrash­ing moves (hairog­ra­phy?) oc­ca­sion­ally ring a tad too cal­cu­lated, that is a quib­ble for show that man­ages to hold its rev­o­lu­tion­ary fists high. “Lizzie” is de­fi­ant to the last note.

NI­COLE STO­DARD/COUR­TESY

The cast of Think­ing Cap The­atre’s “Lizzie: The Mu­si­cal” at the Van­guard Sanc­tu­ary for the Arts in Fort Lauderdale.

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