It’s been nearly 130 years since Lizzie Borden was tried for (and acquitted of) the horrific murders of her father and stepmother in Fall River, Mass., in 1892. But the notorious case continues to fascinate, and over the years, we’ve seen countless adaptations of the gruesome legend — from stage to screen and even opera and ballet. But I doubt you’ve ever seen anything quite like Street Theatre Company’s production of Lizzie: The Musical, currently onstage at Darkhorse Theater.
Penned by Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer, Tim Maner and Alan Stevens Hewitt, this version offers a fresh — and decidedly badass — approach to the familiar tale, with an all-female cast, a rocking onstage band and plenty of girl power. The book plays a little fast and loose with the facts, leaning heavily into the more sordid details and speculation surrounding the case — including the idea that Borden had been sexually abused by her father and rumors of a lesbian tryst. Regardless, it’s the music that really drives the story. And the opening number “The House of Borden” kicks off the evening in blistering style.
Leslie Marberry directs a terrific ensemble of actors, all of whom seem quite comfortable with the rowdy concert vibe. Delaney Amatrudo anchors the piece in the title role, demonstrating impressive vocal range and control, while making a believable journey from traumatized young woman to swaggering, ax-wielding heroine. Act I’s “This is Not Love” is particularly potent, revealing Lizzie’s emotional state and reminding us just how precarious her situation actually is. But her steely resolve and powerhouse vocals quickly pick up in big numbers such as “Gotta Get Out of Here” and “Burn the Old Thing Up.”
Caitlyn Porayko also is excellent as Lizzie’s neighbor and love interest Alice. She provides a nice counterbalance to Amatrudo’s more brash delivery, particularly in reflective ballads such as “If You Knew” and “Maybe Someday.” As Lizzie’s big sister Emma, Hannah Arn delivers plenty of fireworks, commanding the stage in “Sweet Little Sister” and “What the Fuck Now, Lizzie?!” But it’s the beautiful hymn “Watchmen for the Morning’’ (which she shares with Amatrudo) that really showcases her voice. Mileah Milstead rounds out the quartet as the family’s housekeeper Bridget — her lips curling around each haunting lyric in “Shattercane and Velvet Grass.” And she gives us a delicious blend of disdain and droll delight in “The Fall of The House of Borden.”
Of course, some of the best moments feature the entire ensemble, including Act I’s fiery closer “Somebody Will Do Something.” Other highlights include the percussive “Questions Questions” and the scorching “Thirteen Days in Taunton,” which fully draws us into the spectacle of the courtroom. By the time a triumphant Lizzie emerges with “Into Your Wildest Dreams,” you may just be ready to grab an ax and hop onstage yourself.
Meanwhile, music director Lee Druce plays keys and leads a great band, with Danielle Aslett on drums, Sarah Eitel on guitar and Sean Zywick on bass. In the hands of a lesser cast and crew, the pulsating sound could easily overwhelm, and I must admit that I did occasionally lose some of the lyrics at Friday night’s opening performance. But the raw energy adds to the fun, and truly serves the story.
Cassie Hamilton’s multilevel set makes the most of the intimate Darkhorse, and is nicely enhanced by Kristen DuBois’ dramatic lighting. J. Robert Rains deserves special mention for his effective sound and projection designs, and Mycah Kennedy’s costumes provide an eye-catching mix of Victorian and punk fashions.
Often exhilarating and wholly entertaining, Street Theatre’s Lizzie is just a bloody good time.