Village Theatre’s ‘Lizzie Borden’ musical promises more than 40 whacks
August 7, 2012
By Warren Kagarise
Long before Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, O.J. Simpson and Casey Anthony turned legal proceedings into media circuses, a comely ax murderess morphed into a cause célèbre.
Lizzie Borden captivated the Gilded Age nation after a hatchet felled parents Andrew and Abby Borden. The ensuing trial and media firestorm guaranteed the ultimately acquitted Lizzie Borden a place in history.
The original musical “Lizzie Borden” lifts facts from the court transcripts and adds a rock ‘n’ roll score. “Lizzie Borden” debuts to the public at First Stage Theatre during Village Theatre’s Festival of New Musicals. (The show opens almost 120 years to the day after the murders occurred.)
The coarse language and thumping score represent a mash-up between the 1890s and present day.
“It’s a big, loud rock show, but also, it’s a hybrid,” composer and lyricist Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer said in a recent interview, as rehearsals for the show ramped up. “It’s not all big and loud, and there’s a story and there’s a lot of subtlety.”
The nursery rhyme — “Lizzie Borden took an ax, and gave her mother 40 whacks,” as the singsong verse begins — is not quite accurate. The killer — perhaps Borden, perhaps not — struck Andrew Borden 10 or 11 times, and Abby Borden 19 times.
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Village Theatre presented “Lizzie Borden” as a barebones reading at the 2011 Festival of New Musicals. The musical received a strong reaction from the festival audience.
“They loved seeing a show with strong women’s roles — women getting to sing balls-out rock ‘n’ roll, which is unusual,” Cheslik-DeMeyer said.
The idea for a Lizzie Borden musical germinated several years ago between Cheslik-DeMeyer and librettist, lyricist and composer Tim Maner. Alan Stevens Hewitt, a composer and lyricist, signed on to the project later.
“The Legend of Lizzie Borden” — a 1975 made-for-TV movie starring “Bewitched” witch Elizabeth Montgomery — fascinated Cheslik-DeMeyer and Maner as children.
So, too, did strong female rock artists Joan Jett, Patti Smith and Heart’s Ann and Nancy Wilson.
“In this kind of sick way, it’s a rock ‘n’ roll story — it’s like rebellion against your parents,” Cheslik-DeMeyer said.