AMERICA'S FIRST AXE MURDERESS, IS A THRILLING WELCOME TO "RAY OF LIGHT’S" SEASON OPENING.
The SF Mission District will never be the same - Lizzie Borden now hosting the already haunted Victoria Theatre is blowing up the neighborhood. This powerhouse rock musical with four amazing SF women at the helm, is the best on stage this fall. Ray of Light Theatre Company opens their 14th season with the Bay Area premiere, of the gory rock musical LIZZIE. Director Eliza Leoni says “Our entire company fell in love with LIZZIE the first time we heard it. This show is as addictive as its true crime inspiration. It not only stages the enduring legend of Lizzie Borden, but also deepens it in new and unexpected ways. And it doesn't hurt that it features some of the most exciting music we've ever heard in a musical." The music and book by Steven Cheslik-deMeyer, Tim Maner and Alan Stevens Hewitt were at opening night for the San Francisco run.
Exciting and explosive are the best ways to describe this walk through a musical nightmare about the murders of the Bordens. The story centers around Lizzie, a 32 year old woman who is suspected to have axe murdered her dad and stepmom in 1892 Massachusetts.
LIZZIE features four of the bay area's favorite singers, Elizabeth Curtis as Lizzie Borden, Jessica Coker as her older sister Emma, Taylor Jones as neighbor Alice and Melissa Reinertson as the housemaid Bridget. The four women drive the score with some punk metal fever with “Forty Whacks” and “The House of Borden”. The tender sounds of “Maybe Someday” and "Shattercane and Velvet Grass” tone things down but not for long. The sold out opening night audience was nearly on their feet after some of the more punk rock numbers. At times it gave me the feel of an in your face rock concert.
The four players filled with anger and at times passion and love, in the Victorian space. Wearing edgey full dresses and corset working gowns, designed skillfully by Melissa Wortman. At times the costumes are punk goth as they are elegant and absorb the beautiful back lights designed by the accomplished lighting artist Joe D’Emilio. I need to make it clear that possibly the fifth star of this dynamite show is D’Emilio light design, as he uses the force of his canons of lights to make this show explode. The “back” lighting (the pools of light that shine into the audience) are so well used as you see the halo crowns of light that pick out each women. The multiple level set of iron and spiral staircases keep the ladies deep in a setting that haunts the show - set designed by Angrette McCloskey. She kept away from the rock show look, yet the steel rot iron punk feel is so excellent. The women stomp with rock as choreographed by Nicole Helfer, who used the multi level set to move the cast from scene to scene, is well crafted.
The women of LIZZIE each have their own specific sound and pathos from humor to
gory passion. Elizabeth Curtis is Lizzie, and she is wonderful with a powerful voice on high-decibel songs like a diva on fire with her axe. She is featured in most of the score singing and in the obvious dramatic theatrical moments when the blood flows. Curtis voice drives the rock numbers and is euphonious during ballads. The hymn “Watchmen for the Morning” is song by Curtis and the amazing Jessica Coker, who plays her sister Emma.
You don’t want the music to stop when you see all four of the women on stage, Coker blows away the Victoria theatre, she is at Lizzie’s side for many of the first act song’s “Gotta Get Out of Here” is addictive. Local favorite Taylor Iman Jones, is a treat to see as Alice, Lizzie’s girlfriend. Their timing on stage is perfect and Jones beautiful voice adds that Riot-Girl passion to the affection Alice has for Lizzie. A favorite in the cast is Melissa Reinerston as Bridget, the housemaid and subtext chorus to some of the madness of the story. Her voice combined with the other leads is just as excellent and strong and Bridget does get the humourous moments of the mayhem.
The live orchestra - the only men on stage - excluding their talented Cello, Freya Seeburger, is conducted by the skillful favorite David Moschler. The lush gothic rock and searing score is the core of this show. Filled out with the superb Sam Schwartz on lead guitar, Brendan West on rhythm guitar, Jeff Patterson on bass and Dan Blum on drums. Sound is important in a rock musical since the leads use both body mics and hand mics coordinated by Anton Hedman and designed by Teddy Husker. Yes the sound is loud and at times we do miss the lyrics, but not as much as you expect. No different from AMERICAN IDIOT or the volume of RENT. Director Leoni mentions the similarities to bands Nirvana and the Runaways music, that transcend the sound to this kick ass show. Leoni has created a great two hours of music and gore, allowing her cast to show off their amazing talents, as Lizzie sings “Somebody Will Do Something” and ends the first act with the axe in hand as the lights fade.
In the second act the story is in motion the deed done, and Lizzie classic line "I don't remember the questions or the answers." sets the mood for the trail. The women take the stage striped down a bit to take the rock to the next level. “What the Fuck Now Lizzie?” song by the company is priceless. The siren's belt out their souls to finish the second act in Angle like capes and bring down the house. This is a woman's tale and repressed anger and emotion come into play to make this musical explode as we root for Lizzie. Ray of Light has a true hit on stage this season, and it is a welcome to have Lizzie and her sister, maid and girlfriend in town for the fall season. The sold out crowd were on their feet before the show ended for a well deserved standing O. This is MUST see and tops any rock musical you have seen in the past. It runs through Oct 17th at the Victoria Theatre.
Ray of Light - Presents Bay Area Premiere
Music by Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer and Alan Stevens Hewitt
Lyrics by Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer and Tim Maner
Book by Tim Maner
Directed by Eliza Leoni
Musical Direction by David Möschler
Choreography by Nicole Helfer
September 25-October 17
Victoria Theatre, San Francisco
16th and Mission
Tickets - http://rayoflighttheatre.com/lizzie/
Nick Otto Photography http://www.nickotto.net/
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