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“Lizzie” Slays at Human Race

Review by Liz Eichler of “Lizzie”: Human Race Theatre

Cincinnatians – Dayton’s Human Race must-see “Lizzie” is a raucous riotous rock show which explores possible motivations of the infamous alleged axe-wielder, Lizzie Borden. Imagine a concert between Pat Benatar, Alanis Morissette, Taylor Swift and Stevie Nicks all focused on the same creepy theme – this is it.

Music and Lyrics by Steven Cheslik-Demeyer, Alan Stevens Hewitt, and Tim Maner, “Lizzie” was born at Baldwin Wallace University and nurtured and incubated in various productions since 2009. It is based on the child’s rhyme: “Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother 40 whacks, when she saw what she had done she gave her father 41.” This musical explores the pressure cooker of a household that could have led to such horrific actions, if they were true: cheapskate creepy dad, second wife, locks on all the doors, sisters 10 years apart, a neighbor who cares for Lizzie a bit too much, and a foreign maid who may be into the dark arts.  It was one of the biggest trials of 1892, tried in the press with a jury of “old white men.” However, what could not be printed and spoken in 1892 is front and center. The playwrights make choices that resonate with today’s audiences. This is an exploration of the feelings of the women involved, not the trial. It is raw and visceral, with some numbers striking you to your core, and others still in development. There’s been some activity to open Off-Broadway and Broadway, swirling in rumor. Theatre fans, there’s many reasons to come see the show now, in a great production with AEA performers.   

First, let’s start with Cincinnati’s darling, Leslie Goddard (Bridget the Maid) who delivers what we know she can deliver—heartfelt vocals and powerful emotions.  She’s also a little creepy and mysterious, too–what did the maid do or know?

Then there’s the friend, Alice (Michaella Waickman) with a haunting sweetness to her voice, highlighted in so many numbers, including “Will You Stay.” Older sister Emma (Natalie Bird) gives off that pinched but corporate rock look and sound with great vocals, great movement, but somewhat removed, until the second act with a powerful “WTF Now, Lizzie.”

The headliner is Lizzie (not Elizabeth) herself–-Deanna Giulietti.  She slays.  She kills it. She delivers a powerful rock star persona, vocals, and performance.  We feel her pain, her claustrophobia, her madness, her elation. Her performance eclipses everyone else, starting with “This is Not Love” and continuing to the encore. So many favorites, but “Thirteen Days in Taunton” especially highlights the brilliance of the script and score.

The costumes (Liz Bourgeois) are very movable steampunk/goth/rock to accommodate the wild movement and choreography (Katie Johannigman). The set (Ray Zupp) is simple with a few powerful surprises. The lighting (John Rensel) is colorful and active, variously moody and hyper. The five-person band, led by Music Director Jay Brunner, is strong and visible. He ensured the ladies sound legit in both rock and ballads.

Director Jamie Cordes drives the fast pace of this show, searching for the range between a knockout raw rock musical and catering to Human Race’s traditional subscribers. Perhaps he held back a bit, letting the cast go to 10, but not 11. There’s room to push it further–the vocals, the volume, the rawness, the feminism and the humor. Yet it is still thought-provoking, moving, and well worth the drive to Dayton. “Lizzie” runs through June 30, 2019.  Get tickets at www.ticketcenterstage.com or 937-228-3630.