Fresh off their Capital Fringe Best Overall Show and Best Musical Theatre or Opera wins for 2016’s Over Her Dead Body, Pinky Swear Productions (PSP) rips onto the stage of Anacostia Playhouse with LIZZIE: The Musical, created by Steven Cheslik-deMeyer, Alan Stevens Hewitt, and Tim Maner.
PSP Artistic Director Karen Lange has been pursuing the show for nine years hoping to bring it to the DC area. She believes PSP is the perfect fit for this production, explaining on their website:
We’ve been wanting to do LIZZIE for a long time, and we’re excited that we get to be the first to bring it to DC audiences… With our feminist focus and rock ‘n’ roll edge, I think we’re the perfect company to show a different side of a legendary American crime.
She couldn’t be more dead on, and from someone who is 1) probably too fixated on serial killers and notorious crimes for my own good (and the good of my loved ones… just saying) and 2) a HUGE fan of the Riot Grrl genre, I was jumping at the chance to see this production just as much as the performers were jumping all over the stage at Anacostia Playhouse.
LIZZIE is an alternate look at the infamous Lizzie Borden case. In 1892 prominent businessman Andrew Borden and his wife Abby were found brutally murdered in their home (and I mean like, BRUTALLY). Suspicion initially fell to one of Andrew’s possible business rivals because admittedly, he was kind of a jerk. But due to her changing stories and erratic behavior around the time of the murders Andrew’s 32-year-old “spinster” (aka probably lesbian) daughter Lizzie was arrested, tried, and subsequently found not guilty of the grisly crime (and I mean like, GRISLY).
It was “The Crime of the Century” of its time and the entire nation was captivated by the specifics of the case. It was completely unheard of that a woman would be capable of such savagery, and the jury of 12 men deliberated for all of 90 minutes before reaching their not guilty verdict. Lizzie and her sister Emma were then free to inherit their father’s fortune and lived out the rest of their lives in affluence, although they would always be haunted by suspicion from their peers.
LIZZIE: The Musical is a rocking, vibrant, and despite its loudness, occasionally sensitive look at what could drive someone to (allegedly) commit such a heinous crime. It allows audiences to relate to the Borden sisters in a way they haven’t considered before, and this emotional connection wouldn’t be possible without the four incredible performers that make up the cast.
As Bridget, Karen Lange rips onto the stage and chews it to bits in her usual, incredibly awesome fashion. Her character is perhaps the most multi-faceted, at times showing genuine concern for the Borden sisters while at the same time calculating her responses and actions so as not to lay any blame on herself once the murders have been committed.
Rebecca Speas as Lizzie’s sister Emma is equally captivating. Her character offers valuable insight into Lizzie’s possible motives and serves as her sister’s emotional anchor. She’s also a gifted vocalist and performer, allowing her face and body to contort with rage and hatred while still soaring to beautiful heights as a singer.
Making her last appearance as a PSP company member, Allyson Harkey provides the play’s most heartfelt moments as Lizzie’s best friend Alice. There’s a moment between Alice and Lizzie, before everything goes all stabby, that is so beautiful and genuine. She made this reviewer tear up, several times, and if this is how she’s leaving the company – what a way to go! (But please don’t go!)
And lastly – LIZZIE. As the title character, Alani Kravitz delivers a tour-de-force performance that leaves you breathless. I can’t even with this girl, just shut up and take all my money. It’s hard to even put into words just how brilliant she is. Her voice is ridiculous and her portrayal is so heartfelt, so relatable, Kravitz has managed to breathe life into a character that only exists in historical facts at this point. She is tormented and traumatized, and yearning for love, beauty and acceptance. Once her rage is unlocked she is still all of these things, wrapped in a candy-coating of badassery and wielding a hatchet. She makes you ache for this character — this performance marks her PSP debut and here’s hoping she makes a return, soon.
The cast is just outright outstanding and I want to howl their praises in my best Riot Grrl primal scream. That’s in large part due to their level of talent, but also due to the team of experts they’ve assembled to help get their story told.
Musical Director Piero Bonamico slams the keys like nobody’s business and leads the gifted ensemble of Katie Chambers on Cello, Alice Fuller on Percussion, Mark Schramm on Guitar, and Cyndy Elliott on Bass. The music is just as integral to this show as the performances, and you’ll find yourself singing these songs for days, weeks – maybe I’ll sing them all year and creep the hell out of my family.
Featuring a simple, black (and red) box set, Director Marie Byrd Sproul and Choreographer Rachel Hynes, together with Set Consultant Collin Ranney and Scenic Charge Mary Cat Gill, successfully utilize every inch of the stage. Their work allows the cast to remain physically charged throughout, echoing the spirit of the music that drives the play onward.
With very little dialogue, Sound Designer Kenny Neal and Engineer Shane Solo have their work cut out for them and they deliver in spades (hatchets?). And the costumes, designed by Liz Gossens, are punk-rock perfection (seriously, can I come shopping with you sometime?).
Featuring an ensemble of gifted performers and musicians, LIZZIE: The Musical is a riotous, feminist retelling of one of the most sensational crimes in American history. Let’s keep our fingers and axes crossed that it doesn’t take another nine years to see a show like this again. LIZZIE runs until the first weekend of February, so grab your combat boots and black eyeliner and get your butt to Anacostia Playhouse before Lizzie gives you 40 whacks.
Running Time: 90 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.