Lizzie the Musical

Blah, blah, blah.  I’m not a fan of musicals.  Blah blah blah. But I’m reviewing one anyway.  Blah blah blah. That is usually how I start off a review when I am seeing a musical.  I’m not “that” kind of theater nerd. #sorrynotsorry. But I was extremely excited to see Guerilla Theatre Front’s production of Lizzie: The Musical.  Why you might ask?  Because GTF is badass and they do some badass shit.  And this musical features four women singing fucking rock songs.  Which is also badass. So yeah, I was excited to see this show and I am so glad I did.  Especially when it’s in the basement of a warehouse in Woodberry known as Creative Labs.  In case you didn’t know, GTF knows how to get you in the mood.  Creative lab’s basement space was so fucking cool and served as the perfect backdrop to this guerilla style theater show.  It was artsy, unique and dare I say…a creative lab? It truly added to the whole experience. Within the winding space, GTF had areas to summon Lizzie’s spirit, vendors selling thematic accessories, Lizzie themed cocktails, and tarot card readings.  Nice world building stuff. I was ready before the show even began.

The basic plot of Lizzie: The Musical: Ever heard the song about how Lizzie gave her mother 40 whacks?  I have and I’m not sure why. It’s one of those weird things you learn as a kid and have no idea how you learned it, but you are well informed about it anyway.  Why do I know about this 1800s chick named Lizzie Borden (Parker Bailey Steven) who was put on trial for the axe murder (in the literal sense) of her father and stepmother? No clue.  Anyway, this musical is based on the real life case.  Lizzie’s sister Emma Borden (Caitlin Weaver) goes out of town to change their father’s will. Seems that when Daddy Borden dies all the money goes to the new Stepmother and not the Borden sisters. WTF Dad! When she returns, Daddy dearest and the evil step mom are dead. Bridget “Maggie” Sullivan (Siobhan Beckett) is the ever present housekeeper in the House of Borden and Lizzie’s best friend and secret lover Alice Russell (Jacquan Knox) fill out this girl powered world.  IRL, Lizzie was acquitted but people talk and rumors become truth thus creating the aforementioned macabre nursery rhyme. I’ll be honest, the book and story in Lizzie: The Musical were a little thin. I had so many questions: Why did Lizzie kill her parents?  Did she have a mental break? Or was she just fed up at their mistreatment of her?  And if she didn’t kill them, who did? Does Lizzie have Daddy issues?  This family was a little odd and not the kind I’d want over for dinner.  Even though the production left me with more questions than answers, I didn’t give a shit.  The performances were that good.

Actress Parker Bailey Steven (Lizzie Borden) had a versatile voice that was embedded with emotion.  She shifted flawlessly from a shy girl to a confident woman with the inflection of her voice or a look in her eyes.  She played Lizzie as a complicated woman and I was there for it. Caitlin Weaver (Emma Borden) played the elder sister to the titular character. She was so full of angst on stage and I ate it up with a spoon. Caitlin Weaver commanded the stage and stole every scene she was in.  Her voice was smooth like an axe going through flesh. Too much?  The song “Sweet little sister” was my favorite of hers.  Siobhan Beckett (Bridget “Maggie” Sullivan) was sly as fuck on stage as the maid to the Borden sisters and sometimes narrator.  Her powerful voice echoed in the small space and gave me chills. Jacquan Knox (Alice Russell) had a sweet, steadfast voice with strength just below the surface bubbling through during intense moments.  Of all of the characters, hers was the most grounded and Jacquan played her with honesty and presence. Overall, the voices in this production were down right phenomenal.  Four strong women at microphones with fantastic four part harmonies.  But wait, there’s more! Come for the voices, stay for the band! The live six piece band lead by Musical director and lead guitarist Megann Baldwin was killer!  The music was rocking and the cello was getting it!  I felt like I was at a rock concert. Megann Baldwin got these talented actresses to blend and harmonize with pitch perfect precision.  The musical arrangement was layered and leaned heavily on punk and metal influences. If you like your music loud and hard, this is the show for you.  It was highly entertaining and headbang inducing. One of my favorites was the song “Somebody will do something” and I found myself raising my metal horns high.  The music was fun with clever lyrics and punk rock attitude.

The costume design trio of Maggie Flannigan (also doing double duty as the Stage Manager), Amy Bell and Marie Bankerd created what I’d like to call “Modern Victorian chic”.  The costumes fit each lady divinely and were a nod to the Victorian time period of the real-life Lizzie, but kept modern with skull fishnets and jewel tone colors. Fitted jackets, snitched waists, ankle boots and the like.  The costumes were beautiful, fun, and deadly.  Set and construction head Aaron Elson kept the focus on the ladies with several platforms to delineate inside the Borden home, outside the Borden home and inside the barn.  Various doors and stairs aided in the multi-room vision and the set fit in seamlessly in the Creative lab space.  Lighting and sound designers Jim Shomo, Charles Hirsch and Third Wall Productions were the mood building puppet masters in this production.   The lighting was dynamic and the music was loud. I especially enjoyed the multicolored lighting that appeared when Lizzie’s emotional state changed.  Ya’ll had that upgraded lighting package didn’t you? As for the sound, I don’t remember if there were any sound effects.  AlI I remember is that electric feeling of loud rock music pulsing in my ears after every song. I may be old, but I’m not dead yet.  Rock on bitches! Chris Uehlinger is the rock star of projections in Baltimore. His projections were beautiful, eerie, surreal, and captivating.  I could go on to describe his level of mastery, but I think you get the point.  Damn. They fit the scene and framed the emotion effortlessly. I’d watch the show with just the projections if I could.  Lizzie: The Musical was appealing to both the eyes and ears.  Director Greg Bell brought all the elements together and created an insane show unlike none other.  I felt the blocking was a little muddy at times, but I could tell that the director was able to get each actress to really lean into their characters to the fullest.  What else can you ask for? This production felt like a supportive family who loves to rock.

SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO?  Go. Go. GOOOOOO!!! You already missed the first weekend and by the grace of the Rock Gods you have another shot the weekend of Oct 25th and 26th.  For those of you who are not big fans of the singy/dancy/saccharine dialogue of most musicals, you will love Lizzie: The Musical.  Straight songs, no bullshit.  Guerrilla Theatre Front has cemented their place in the Baltimore theatre landscape by producing edgy, fun, and exciting shows in unusual spaces.  And Lizzie: The Musical is no exception.  These women know how to ROCK!  Everything from the voices, the acting, the band, and the tech were painstakingly webbed together with love, grit and talent.  This production will leave you breathless. Leave your ear plugs at home and enjoy the loud. You can deal with the consequences when you’re older.  For now, head down to Creative labs, grab a Lizzie themed drink, throw up your Metal hands and rock the fuck out to GTF’s production of Lizzie: The Musical.—Z

Running time: 2 hours-ish with an intermission.  Playing at Creative Labs, October 25th-26th, 8pm and 11pm.

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