Greenwich Theatre 22 February – 12 March. Reviewed by Claire Roderick
The UK premiere of Lizzie brings one of the bloodiest pieces of American folklore to the stage with blistering energy and a high-octane rock score. The trial and acquittal of Lizzie Borden for the 1892 axe murders of her father and stepmother has led to speculation about her guilt and motives. Tim Maner’s book focuses on the theories about Mr Borden abusing Lizzie, the Borden sisters’ hatred for their stepmother, and Lizzie’s sexual orientation.
With the six-piece band on stage and the show’s semi-staged action adding to the rock concert vibe, the production needs a strong cast to grab the audience’s imagination, and here they have hit solid gold.
Bjorg Gamst reprises her role as Lizzie with intense passion, looking like an angel and singing like a banshee. Her emotional range is stunning and surprising with this material, and she has you rooting for Lizzie from the very first number. Eden Espinosa is a powerhouse of sheer class as Lizzie’s older sister Emma, and Bleu Woodward is deceptively sweet as Lovelorn friend Alice. Jodie Jacobs clowns around as Bridget the gleefully mercenary maid, milking every comic moment. The power and range of the women’s voices are phenomenal, and their harmonies are fantastic.
Steven Cheslik-Demeyer, Alan Stevens Hewitt and Tim Maner’s music is thumping and frenetic, building throughout the first act into near hysteria when Lizzie finally flips – in Why Are All These Heads Off? – Lizzie’s reaction to her father chopping off her beloved pigeons’ heads is a frankly insane piece of music which ramps up the tension before the final bloody number of act 1. (During which the front row covered themselves with plastic sheets – fantastic use of stuffed watermelons as a gory substitute!)
The second act sees the cast change their Victorian costumes for rock chick corsets and leather, and sees Lizzie take control, her new-found freedom from her father overriding any fear of incarceration. The machinations of the women backing Lizzie’s varying alibi, and covering up of evidence makes for some intense and vitriolic numbers, the standout being Eden Espinosa’s What The F**k Now Lizzie? There’s even a country style jailhouse ballad that would make Johnny Cash smile.
Not to everyone’s taste, I will admit, but Lizzie is a fresh and stunning new musical that gives a gothic twist to classic rock opera and is a much-needed shot in the arm for the modern musical. GET A TICKET TODAY.