Rock musical explores the women at the center of a piece of American infamy
Here’s that rock musical you’ve been waiting for in which there’s ax-wielding happening both in the pit and onstage.
“Lizzie” is a four-woman rock retelling of the story of Lizzie Borden, who, you’ll recall, is infamous for possibly murdering her parents. Lizzie was acquitted of the crime in court, and no one was ever subsequently charged with the murders. Drama, intrigue, murder, Victorian dresses… what more could you want in a rock musical?
Cassie Gress, who plays Lizzie Borden friend and confidant Alice Russell in Bloody Good Productions’ presentation of “Lizzie,” which takes place at Park Street Theatre Friday and Saturday, Feb. 15-16, said she knew from the first time she happened onto the Bikini Kill/Runaways-esque songs from “Lizzie” that she wanted to perform the show. Gress said she and castmate Dakota Thorn (who plays Borden housekeeper Bridget Sullivan, called Maggie by the Bordens) were on a road trip to the annual United Professional Theatre Auditions in Memphis and had pulled up a musical theater channel on a mobile music streaming service when the then-unfamiliar songs started playing.
“We were like, ‘What is this? It’s amazing,’” Gress said. “We listened to it like six times straight. We said right then we were going to do this.” In the past year or so, they have assembled a team of friends and contacts inside and out of the theater community to address funding, rights, direction and other production needs (costuming, finding a theater, hiring a band, etc.).
“Somehow we’ve gotten everything we need,” Gress said. “But even now we’re still wondering, ‘Are we really doing this?’”
The production concerns the infamous events of Fall River, Mass., in the summer of 1892. (For those not familiar, Lizzie and Emma Borden’s parents were murdered with an ax in their home. Lizzie and Bridget/Maggie were home at the time but claimed to not have been aware of anything unusual. Lizzie was arrested, tried and acquitted, although she remains the prime suspect in history.) But while there is some concern with telling the gruesome tale — excerpts from the courtroom transcript are used as dialogue in “Lizzie” — the musical is primarily concerned with the relationship among the four women.
“There are lots of theories about what happened, and ‘Lizzie’ addresses those, but from the perspective of these important women in Lizzie’s life,” Managing Artistic Director Andrew Protopapas said.
Lizzie and Emma get on as sisters do, in both positive and negative ways. Bridget/Maggie is a significant figure in the lives of both young women — perhaps maternal in many respects, if given rumors about the girls’ father’s abuse and mother’s ineffectuality are valid. Alice’s character is a blend of the family’s neighbor and actress Nance O’Neil, with whom Lizzie had an undefined relationship later in her life.
“It’s empowering to have the story told in the voices of women, especially since these are women who might not have been able to live their lives the way they wanted at this time in history,” Gress said.
Proceeds will benefit Gracehaven, an organization providing care to survivors of sex trafficking.