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