Bursting forth with raw emotion and a much-needed blast of feminist rage, LIZZIE is the perfect antidote for our troubled, Trumped times.
The Jobsite Theater production, running through November 6 at the Straz Center’s Jaeb Theater, is a must-see for fans of darker themed-material that crackles with erotic undertones, but it also provides a cathartic release for anyone who appreciates the rebellious freedom of full-throated rock and roll.
Forget everything you know about the infamous Lizzie Borden, the Massachusetts maiden who was accused of killing her father and stepmother with an axe way back in August 1892. Forget everything you’ve ever seen on TV and in films. This is not the Elizabeth Montgomery version from the 1970's or even the Christina Ricci approach from last year.
LIZZIE doesn’t so much rewrite history as repackage it from a new perspective – Lizzie’s perspective – as a young woman fighting to maintain control of her family estate, contending with a new matriarch and experiencing the blossoming emotion of a forbidden love with her friend Alice.
Buoyed by four incredibly strong female leads – Colleen Cherry as Lizzie, Heather Krueger as Lizzie’s sister, Emma Borden, Christina Jane Capehart as Alice Russell and Fo’i Meleah as the Borden’s housekeeper, Bridget Sullivan – LIZZIE starts as a period-production before stripping down, literally, into a provocative showcase of female empowerment.
Perfectly staged on an impressive display of metal girders with a live band, director David Jenkins keeps the focus squarely on his captivating quartet, allowing each actress multiple moments to shine. Meleah’s Bridget provides the sassy inner monologue, a one-woman Greek chorus, when she addresses the audience at various points with effective one-off observations, such as “There’s some crazy shite in the house of Borden.”
The soundtrack’s original songs propel the narrative, moving fluidly from power ballads to full-on Hedwig-style anthems. Patrons expecting a more traditional musical theater experience get an early introduction with the one-two punch of “This Is Not Love,” a plaintive ballad sung beautifully by Cherry, which is
immediately followed by the aggressive fist-pumping thrust of “Gotta Get Out of Here.”
One deliriously awesome standout moment, delivered with palpable riot-girl righteousness by Krueger, her hair coifed into a mohawk, her torso cinched in a corset, is “What the F--- Now, Lizzie!” It’s a decidedly blue, adults-only blast of edgy rock that gets your adrenaline pulsing.
LIZZIE expertly balances its cabaret-style titillation and shifting family dynamics. Even adorned in ripped leggings, knee-high boots and bustiers, the all-female cast never feels exploited. They own their reality and their bodies, which likely was unheard of in the late 1800s, but plays perfectly in today’s modernized society.
In the end, Lizzie maintains her innocence and wins her freedom, but the lingering specter of her accusations is well-documented by history.
Maybe that’s what makes LIZZIE such a galvanizing viewing experience. It’s more than simply identifying with and rooting for a character who likely committed a heinous crime. Lizzie’s humanity and the societal constricts of the period in which she lived dovetail with the visceral imagery and ignorant rhetoric assaulting us daily on TV and in the news.
Women have had to fight for so much over time, and they continue that fight today – especially for the right to have their voices heard and the right to rail against misogynists and predators who would rather they sit quiet and pretty in a gilded cage.
Lizzie Borden took an axe and made it known that she would no longer be a victim. And LIZZIE has rightly turned that axe into a defiant power chord that reverberates long after the final bow.
If You’re Going:
Where: Straz Center’s Jaeb Theater, 1010 North W.C. MacInnes Place, Tampa, FL 33602
When: October 20, 21, 22, 27, 28, 29 and November 3, 4, 5 at 8 p.m.; October 23, 30 and November 6 at 4 p.m.
Run Time: 85 minutes with a 20-minute intermission.
Tickets: $29.50 available here