By Shari Goldstein Stern
It may be 1892 in Fall River, Mass., but some heads in Dallas, Texas are still banging in 21st-century rock from last weekend’s deliciously creepy opening of “Lizzie” by Imprint Theatreworks. But don’t take that wrong. It’s so much more than a rock musical. Bets are on that this will receive major recognition at award time. The production will play through Nov. 16 at the Bath House Cultural Center on White Rock Lake.
“Lizzie” is the truest form of rock musical with the benefits of a team of exceedingly talented actors/singers, a head-banging band that rocks a brilliant score — this new fan already ordered the soundtrack on online — and a stage that takes your breath away. Each woman in the cast shines in heartfelt solos, but as an ensemble their rich harmony will blow you away.
Lighting is an unobtrusive character in itself. It adds nuance to an eerie set and provides interesting segues. You know that Lighting Designer Daniel Spiropolous spent mammoth time and energy. Other credits belong to Ashley White for her impeccable direction and set design, Musical Director Rebecca Lowrey, Stage Manager Kristy Scroggins, Costume Designer Jessie Wallace, Master Carpenter Abby Kipp and Sound Designer Brian Christensen. It’s hard to imagine such a rich, detailed set that perfectly reflects the period and the mystery on such a small stage. It’s huge.
“Set designer Aaron [White] and I worked very hard with our master carpenter, Abby Kipp-Roberts, on how to approach the set and timeline to execute it properly. We moved into the space on the 22nd and opened on the 31st,” the director explained.
“Lizzie” may take some baby boomers back to one of the earliest “rock operas” of the genre, “The Who’s Tommy.” That story was also a troubling one, set to one of the best scores ever written. It put The Who on the rock music map in the 1960s. When it was presented as a live rock musical, it became legendary.
If you’re not familiar with the historical, legendary story of Lizzie Borden, this is the nursery rhyme it generated: “Lizzie Borden took an axe, gave her mother 40 whacks, when she saw what she had done, gave her father 41.” In fact, Lizzie Borden was accused of murdering her parents with an axe in 1892. Reimagining the story with four women fronting a rock band is genius.
The band’s sizzling, rageful score — complete with rage, betrayal, sex and bloody murder — is brilliant. The outcome is spectacular.
Devin Berg’s intense Lizzie Borden is artful and sympathetic. She uses her physicality to tell her torturous story of abuse, while her darkly expressive face, with piercing eyes and penetrating expression has a credible role all its own.
Her voice is mesmerizing. She’s quite simply perfect in the role. Berg was recently seen in Imprint Theatreworks’ “Ghost Quartet” and has credits with Casa Manana, Garland Summer Musicals, WaterTower and others. She’s a former lead vocalist in the Royal Court Theatre Company aboard Carnival UK and Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth.
Through boisterous surroundings, you can feel the emotional, while toxic connection between Lizzie and her perplexed older sister, Emma, played by an energetic Laura Lites. The actor has been seen at many area theaters like WaterTower and Brickroad, and in many productions at Uptown Players, including several of the “Broadway our Way” franchise.
Aubrey Ferguson as Bridget Sullivan is one tough cookie with “wowza!” vocals. Her area credits include “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” and others at Theatre Three, along with many at WaterTower and Firehouse Theatres.
As Alice, the neighbor, Theresa Keller’s relationship with Lizzie is complicated, while sweet. She has some of the most tender moments in the otherwise chaotic play. Keller’s kind, exquisite hazel-green eyes jump out from the stage, grab you, and won’t let go. The actor has appeared in “Spring Awakening” at Uptown Players, Firehouse Theatre in “Mamma Mia!” and has other local credits.
Not only was opening night the musicians’ virgin performance together, they met for the first time at the first rehearsal. They did such justice to the brilliant score you would think they had been together 40 years, although none of them was born yet. “Lizzie” will put you back in touch with your inner rock star.
According to White, “We spent a year looking for the right band and our Rebecca Lowrey did a phenomenal job assembling a talented and incredibly in-sync, gelled, diverse and dynamic unit.” The talented band members include Rebecca Lowrey, Alan Stevens (orchestrations), Devan Vell, Sara Bollinger, Rachel Francis, Gilbert Glenn and Bree Hill.
Jessie Wallace’s costumes are jaw-dropping: from fishnet hosiery to bustiers, corsets, garters and lace-up boots. In the spirit of Goth, they are in keeping with the period, exquisite and award worthy. “[The wardrobe is] 100 percent sourced and created by our resident costumer, Jessie Wallace,” White said.
The director said, “I was attracted to the show due to the visceral, raging storytelling combined with a blistering score.” She added: “Getting to work with these four artists was an incredible joy and I am so grateful to each of them for their hard work and sacrifice in putting this show together. The trust and ensemble unit in the room, generated by a safe space and universal passion allowed us all to create at a high level and take risks together.”
Very occasionally subtle, more often in-your-face, always powerful “Lizzie” continues at the Bath House Cultural Center through Nov. 16. Visit imprinttheatreworks.org for more information.