Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Lizzie Borden


By Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer, Tim Maner, and Alan Stevens Hewitt. Directed by Maner. At the Living Theater. (CLOSED)

Given Lizzie Borden's multi-decade development process, it must be quite gratifying for its slate of creators to have their work greeting by reviews ranging from appreciative to gushing. Critics cite the rockin' tunes, the badass costumes and Jenny Fellner's performance as key reasons for celebration, while also noting the heavy Spring Awakening influence and occasional weaknesses with the book.

Time Out New York A
(Diane Snyder) The initial incarnation of Lizzie Borden—a fetching, brawny rock musical with an all-female cast clad in both period and punk attire—took place nearly 20 years ago, long before Spring Awakening depicted 19th-century youths under the influence of modern-day music. But it’s impossible not to think of that breakthrough musical (seasoned with a sprinkling of Sweeney Todd) when listening to the show’s invigorating rock songs and smooth ballads by Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer, Alan Stevens Hewitt and Tim Maner, which blend punk, heavy metal and grunge...the really killer stuff is the captivating score and the soaring voices singing along with it.

ShowShowDown A
(Wendy Caster) Lizzie Borden (with book, lyrics, music, concept, direction, and musical direction by Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer, Tim Maner, and Alan Stevens Hewitt) beautifully combines a kick-ass score, strong lyrics, surprising humor, sweet sexiness, cheerful anachronisms, and an eerie atmosphere... Special notice must be paid to the superb Jenny Fellner as Lizzie. Fellner's transition from repressed to explosive is calibrated perfectly, and she performs with her heart, body, and soul--and with great intelligence.

Village Voice B
(Alexis Soloski) Despite lacking any did-she-or-didn't-she drama, Lizzie Borden does supply other excitements: It offers an incest motive for the crimes (expressed uncomfortably in song) and conjures a lesbian romance with neighbor and hostile trial witness Alice Russell (Marie-France Arcilla). It also features pleasantly outré make-up (Carrie Lynn Rohm) and costumes (Bobby Frederick Tilley II), including a red dress for Lizzie with a skirt slit gynecologically high. The narrative is overstated and the characterization broad (more a fault of director Maner than of the actors), but the punky songs and cast energies are agreeably amplified. Not bad for a hatchet job.

TheaterMania B
(Dan Bacalzo) The show attempts to provide a motivation for the 1892 double homicide -- of which the young Lizzie was acquitted -- and while not everything works, a strong score and powerhouse vocal performances inject the piece with a dynamic, infectious energy that glosses over some of the piece's flaws.

NYTimes B
(Neil Genzlinger) The show struggles to establish and maintain a tone — is it high camp, low parody, operatic drama, or what? — but the four women are deliciously watchable. And what other show in town can say that its high point is a song (“Why Are All These Heads Off?”) about decapitated pigeons?

Show Business Weekly B
(Marianne Moore) Ultimately, the production casts Borden as a kind of proto-feminist heroine, even a patron saint of imprisoned and abused women. While, rationally, we know that taking an axe to Daddy’s head is never the solution, we buy the notion that Borden’s actions were her only means of acting out against the inheritance laws that kept her dependent. Or maybe she was just a psycho. At a century’s remove, it doesn’t matter much. This is New York, and we like our murderesses radical, lesbian, and totally hot.

Backstage B
(Mitch Montgomery) Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer, Tim Maner, and Alan Stevens Hewitt's rock musical works the pop angle hard—perhaps too hard. Lizzie is sharply staged, no doubt due to its decades of development, but the musical has picked up some other baggage along the way. Though more-experimental versions premiered in the 1990s (which, in fairness, I did not see), this version seems content to hop on the "Spring Awakening" bandwagon.

TONY A 13; SSD A 13; VV B 10; NYT B 10; SBW B 10; TM B 10; BS B 10; TOTAL: 76 /7 = 10.86 (B+)

No comments: