Lizzie – A Badass Musical Starring Four Badass Women

Lizzie Borden took an axe

Four powerhouse women command the stage, singing the infamous folk rhyme while awash in eerie red lights. The deed has been done, and the trial has begun. But what exactly happened that fateful summer morning in 1892? The lights change to a neutral palette and the all-female cast takes us back in time, showing us one possible version of the double-murder by axe.

And gave her mother forty whacks.

The brick walls of the venue, the sparse set pieces and props, and the directive lighting kept the focus on the ferocity of the incredible females that fleshed out Lizzie’s story on stage. Lizzie (Leslie Rubino) and her sister Emma (Brooke Van Grinsven) were living a frustrating and heartbreaking existence under their father and stepmother. Lizzie, directly suffering at the hands of her abusive father, found solace in her next-door neighbor, Alice (Jenni Marie Lopez). After Mr. Borden discovered their clandestine meetings, he killed Lizzie’s beloved pigeons, decapitating them. In retaliation, and with some not-so-subtle help from the Bordens’ irate maid Bridget (Samantha LaBrecque), Lizzie took an axe and struck back with a hatred that had been bubbling under the surface for far too long.

The powerful cast brought nuanced and relatable characters to the stage – from innocent Lizzie being pushed over the edge to saccharine Alice, from angry-but-together Emma to mischievous Bridget. In the murder of the Bordens, these women were brought together, sharing a conspiratorial bond none of them particularly wanted. However, despite (or perhaps because of) the gruesome events, each was able to find the voice within her, an identity which had been stifled previously. The costumes, in particular, highlighted this transition; the women went from conservative period attire to fishnets and pleather, now stronger and more dangerous than they once were. And each actress rose to the occasion, playing the dual sides of their characters convincingly.

When she saw what she had done

Directed by Joanna Syiek and set to a goth-rock score by Steven Cheslik-Demeyer and Alan Stevens Hewitt, Lizzie showcased some savagely good vocals. Lopez brought a lilting soprano which melodically soared through the heavy metal tracks, not unlike Evanescence, while Rubino’s Joplin-esque wails highlighted her crushing need to escape her situation. LaBrecque and Van Grinsven’s indomitable vocals were also on point, but I had the most fun watching LaBrecque uncomfortably clean the stage after a clever take on Lizzie‘s “main event.” From mesmerizing harmonies to riot grrrl rock anthems to intricate rapid-fire lyrics by Cheslik-Demeyer and Tim Maner, Lizzie kept rocking along thanks to Jennifer Lin’s musical direction.

Lizzie was more akin to a concert than a traditional stage musical, and I wish the venue had seating instead of standing room, so the audience could see and enjoy the actors’ facial expressions and interaction better. I also think the trial and aftermath of the murders started to drag after a bit. However, the hour-and-a-half show was energetically brought to ravenous life by such amazing performers, and I had a bloody good time watching them kill it (wink, wink) on stage.

She gave her father forty-one.

Lizzie is showing at Resident DTLA now through September 29th. For more information and tickets, see their website. Be sure to check out our reviews for several other Los Angeles musicals.

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