Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

Review by Richard Connema | Season Schedule

Ray of Light Theatre

Also see Richard's reviews of The Events and This Is Our Youth

Lizzie the musical is being presented at the Victoria Theatre by the cutting edge musical theatre company Ray of Light. So far this year they have presented unusual musicals like Yeast Nation and Heathers: The Musical. Let me start out by saying this ain't a Cole Porter or Jerome Kern score; this is a heavy gothic rock score composed by Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer, Tim Maner and Alan Stevens Hewitt.

Four very talented women front a six-piece rock band which is situated on the second tier of the stage, and they tell the story of Lizzie Borden, America's most famous axe murderer. It's 1892 in a small town in Massachusetts where a very rich elderly man and his second wife are brutally murdered with an axe in broad daylight. Lizzie Borden, their youngest daughter, is the prime suspect. She is arrested and tried, but with no witness to the gruesome crime, she is acquitted.

Lizzie Borden has provided us with the inspiration and raw material for a 1965 opera, a ballet for the America Ballet Theatre, a 1975 ABC film, and even a scene in New Faces of 1992 which featured Michael Brown's Lizzie Borden song with clever lyrics such as "Cause you can't chop your papa up in Massachusetts/ Not even if it's planned as a surprise/ No, you can't chop your papa up in Massachusetts/ You know how neighbors love to criticize."

Lizzie features hard core angry music with a lot of thrashing and stomping by the four women who are clad in 1890s dresses. However, it's not all flailing, and there are songs that sound like camp, such as "What the Fuck Now, Lizzie"; pathos, such as "Sweet Little Sister" and "The Fall of the House of Borden"; and high-decibel tunes like "Forty Whacks" and "Into Your Wildest Dreams." One song that stands out is a beautiful slow piece called "Shattercane and Velvet Grass" sung stunningly by Melissa Reinertson as Bridget the maid. Jessica Coker, who plays Lizzie's sister Emma, gives an extraordinary performance with clear awareness of the lyrics. Elizabeth Curtis rocks as Lizzie, especially when singing "Forty Whacks" and "This Is Not Love." Rounding out the foursome is Taylor Iman Jones as Alice with powerful vocal cords on many of the songs.

The first act felt mind-numbing and repetitive at times, and the sound system was off, making many of the lyrics indistinguishable. However, in the excellent second act with better sound I became absorbed in the story, music, and the characters.

Eliza Leoni's direction is very energy-driven and fast-paced, while Melissa Wortman's costumes are authentic 19th century dresses that are thrown off in the last scene to reveal hot outfits unimpeded by the dresses. Set design by Angrette Mccloskey is interesting, with a series of metal bars with sheets thrown over them. Joe D'Emilio's lighting is very effective. David Moschler on keyboards leads the band, with lead electric guitarist Sam Schwartz, Brendan West on electric and acoustic guitar, Freya Seeburger on cello/percussion, Jeff Patterson on electric bass, and Dan Blum on drum set/percussion.

The York New York Times called the Lizzie score "wall-rattling" and I am inclined to agree with that.

Lizzie plays through October 17, 2015, at the Victoria Theatre, 2961 16th Street between Mission and Capp Street, San Francisco. For information and tickets visit

Photo: Nick Otto

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