Lizzie is a rock musical pretty much unlike any other musical I have seen! It opened last night (24th February) at the Greenwich Theatre. It is based on the true story of Lizzie Boden who, in 1892, was accused of killing her father and step-mother….with an axe. Lizzie became a media sensation and the killing, stuff of American legend.
The story is told from the view point of 4 women, Lizzie Borden herself played by Bjorg Gamst; Emma Borden, Lizzie’s sister played by Eden Espinosa; Alice Russell, Lizzie’s friend and love interest played by Bleu Woodward and the Boden family’s maid, Bridget Sullivan played by Jodie Jacobs. The show is portrayed as if Lizzie is the killer, blood, guts and all are shown in that fatal moment…..in fact be wary of the splash zone!
These 4 women undoubtedly bring the rock! Each one of them have insane rock voices yet their vocal qualities remain distinct and unique from each other which kept me wanting more from each of them. They all just seem to embody rock and when wearing dresses from the 1800’s, in Act 1, this is no mean feat! Bjorg Gamst in the title role ticks every box, appearing initially as sweet and unassuming and by the end of the show she just sizzles sex appeal, albeit with an unhinged edge to it. Eden Espinosa on the other hand manages to appear effortlessly cool even when belting her huge notes. Jodie Jacobs brings the humour to this show, she has the audience laughing with ease, despite the often serious nature of the show. Finally Bleu Woodward brings a sincere and naive interpretation of Alice to the stage, contrasting perfectly with the characters around her and leaving you wondering where the hell her voice just came from. It’s rare that you find people who can handle rock musical theatre so well and to have 4 people of this caliber on stage at the same time makes it worth this visit alone.
The show is nearly all sung through but I was able to follow the story easily, partly thanks to the clever lyrics but also partly thanks to the casts diction, even when they were belting their lungs out I was able to understand every word.
That being said it isn’t just the cast that give me cause to give this a (rare) 5 star review. The story is brilliantly and simply told. Whilst the story is simple it encompasses many themes, including family, love, homosexuality, incest, abuse and class and not one of these issues are addressed in a bashful manner. Each issue is faced head on and dealt with in a varying manner, from humour, to shock but each as successful as the last. The fateful father and step-mother remain as figments in our imagination, which works well, allowing us to focus on Lizzie’s reaction to them. The simplistic staging means each movement the cast performs really hits home. Each step and choreographed passing of the microphone is done with such intention and commitment that you really sit up and take notice.
The score is often blistering, loud and unforgiving. From the second number in ‘House of Boden’ I was trying to refrain myself from joining in with the head banging. The numbers that weren’t full throttle rock contrasted perfectly with the rest of the score, standing out for their simplicity and beautiful melody. ‘This is not love,’ is one such number which tells of the sexualised relationship between Lizzie and her father. The live band played the score brilliantly and the sound engineer and op for this show deserve standing ovations for such a perfectly balanced production, non- mean feat with this kind of music.
Whilst the set is basic the lighting rig isn’t, with moving and flashing lights at every opportunity. Whilst this could distract in some shows it sets the scene perfectly for Lizzie’s score and it is the kind of lighting that would be perfectly at home in a rock concert, yet used well to gain dramatic effect at pivotal moments in the plot.
This is not a show that everyone will enjoy but one that I urge everyone to experience. The talent of the 4 powerhouse women, the blistering score and beautifully simplistic setting makes it a night out to the theatre to die for!