At the root of the mayhem, blood, and psychosis that is the rock musical Lizzie, opening this weekend at The Black Box Theater presented by City Theater Company, is a historical tale of patriarchy, justice and the truth.
Four leading women sing the story of the INfamous Lizzie Borden, the 19th century gal accused of chopping her mother and father to death with an ax. The rock musical subverts the prevalent patriarchy of the time, and uses the story and protagonist as an allegory for modern-day female empowerment.
“There’s only four women in the show,” director Michael Gray says, reinforcing the musical’s feminist themes, while assuring the audience’s positive reception of the character after they’ve witnessed a brutal murder. “It definitely is about taking power. Lizzie evolves from being the victim to the champion, to taking control of her life and finding a way out.”
CTC isn’t necessarily breaking new ground—they’ve done the period thing and the rock opera thing (Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson and American Idiot respectively), and pretty much all their productions have an element of social morality to them, to various degrees. But as Gray noted, one of the (more-or-less) obscure musical’s biggest attractions is its simplicity, in its structure if not its execution.
“In a lot of ways it’s like a play with a rock concert, so you don’t want to get in it’s way too much,’ he said. “A lot of lights. There’s blood...obviously.”
Amidst that gore is Borden’s story and trial. Why did she kill her parents? Was it even her? If not, why do we think it was her to this day? Are their bigger societal issues to blame? Was it all about a catchy playground rhyme? The production’s tweaking of history is redolent, but then again, what do we know to be the whole truth?
Despite the show’s relative obscurity and perhaps in pursuit of that truth, actress and theater devotee Darby McLaughlin has looked forward to playing the role of Lizzie for a long time. “I just happen to be one of the rock musical groupies that knows these shows,” she says, adding that the themes behind the production make for timely subject matter. “Four women just rocking out for an hour and half? Perfect. Sign me up.”
McLaughlin added that the music that propels the show may stick to one genre, but luckily, it’s a pretty well-stocked genre. “It’s literally decades of different types of rock that you just fall into,” she said. “The show wouldn’t be the show without how good the music is.”
Musical director Joe Trainor was visibly excited when talking about that energy of the music that pulls from a multitude of rock n roll sub-genres. He says that although the tunes didn’t present too many difficult challenges, as things progress, it gets more intense until the riotous energy builds to a climax.
“It gets loud,” Trainor said. “It’s pretty much straight rock music all the way through, but it gets loud and it gets right up in your face.”
He adds they attempted to make that tension in the music organic.
“We tried to fill the band out with as many women as possible,” he says, before ticking off a who’s who list of the area’s finest female musicians. “In the end we had to mix in some guys, but we think having those women there alongside the four on stage was important.”
Which it very much is.
After all, amidst the tumult of the locomotive score and a songbook tackled by a dynamic and vociferous cast, is a morality tale about equality hiding as a timeless true-crime mystery that is sure to be a CTC experience to remember.
The experience opens tomorrow at 8pm, with additional performances through Saturday, September 16th.