XU Theatre’s LIZZIE slays audiences

By Briana Dunn, Staff Writer

For the past two weekends, Xavier Theatre has enraptured audiences with their hauntingly good production of LIZZIE, a rock-themed musical.

The musical opens with Lizzie Borden on trial for the  alleged brutal axe murders of her father Andrew Borden and her stepmother,  Mrs. Borden. Act I quickly segues into the events leading up to the murders, where we learn of the Borden sisters’ dislike for their stepmother and changes to their father’s will that spur the girls’ supposed murder plot against Mrs. Borden.

Act I closes with a scene implying Lizzie murdered her parents. Act II resumes with the investigation and Lizzie’s tumultuous trial as she attempts to cover her tracks while accusations fly and the jury deliberates.

Reflecting on how the musical was advertised, I expected to walk into a show with reduced seating placed on the stage and was not disappointed to find just that. The small stature of the seating arrangement makes you feel like you are in the pit of a concert and involved in the production.

The stage design cleverly mirrored the setup of a concert and allowed for movement through the audience. Ramps, risers and spiral stairs to a raised platform furthered the illusion of a concert setting.

The stage also contained five strategically placed screens that followed the actors’ movements throughout the show and showcased pictures of Mr. and Mrs. Borden and the location of each scene.

Photo courtesy of @xaviertheatre via Instagram

There weren’t many props utilized in the show, but those used were skillfully racked in the ceiling. Utilizing the ceiling for prop storage was not only an economical use of stage space but also directed the audience’s attention elsewhere as actors moved about the stage.

At first, I was disappointed that no actual murder was witnessed on stage. However, it was intriguing how the deaths of Mr. and Mrs. Borden were portrayed. Lizzie’s back was towards the audience as fake blood was shown between her fingers before being smeared on her face and clothing after each murder.

Personally, I thought the actors did an exceptional job pulling off a show of this caliber, especially since there were only four main characters. Their voices were unique and fit each character and to transform their emotion in the moment.

I can’t say there was a song I disliked. Despite being advertised as a rock musical, I found that many songs in the first act followed a traditional musical’s song qualities infused with portions of rock. Act II ushered in a lot more rock presence, not only in music but wardrobe.

The costume department’s attention to detail was impeccable, creating garments accurate to that fateful August in  1892. Act II’s costumes contrasted the historical dressings of the first act. This switch-up pushed the rock aspect of the production, with more modern and punk-rock costumes.

Even with the costume change, each woman was dressed to reflect their individual role in the trial and overall personality. Alice’s outfit seemed more innocent  than Lizzie or Emma Borden, who had more angry, menacing outfits.

Offstage, the preparation of LIZZIE was immaculate. There were ear plugs available to all patrons complementary to their ticket purchase. Prior to entering the theater, there were multiple warnings about intense light and flashes, loud noises and music and content warnings concerning violence, adult content, language, sexual assault, rape, incest, attempted suicide and murder.

My only complaint would be some microphone issues, since sometimes lines were lost or muffled if the headset microphones were off. However, I think that is a fair price to pay to prevent feedback from mics being too close to one another.Overall, this show is intense and attention-grabbing, and had me on the edge of my seat. LIZZIE was a great first show for Xavier Theatre’s spring season and a bloody good time.