Loving musicals, I was anxious to see Spindle City: The Lizzie Bordoen Musical. Not a fan of gore however, I had some trepidation.
I am from a small town not far from Fall River and am, of course, familiar with the ditty, “Lizzy Borden took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks….” (Come on you know the rest, that’s right join in), and when she’d seen what she had done she gave her father 41.) Anyway, I was curious to see how this ditty manifests into a musical.
A musical story of one of the most infamous murders of the 19th Century. In August of 1892, a gentile Victorian woman, Lizzie Borden (Emily Bridges) is accused of butchering her parents, with an axe. Lizzy’s background lends credibility to the possibility that she murdered her parents.
Chas Mitchell (l.), Sarah Hoback, Bianca Vanderhorst, Jazmine Ramay, Rick Simone
Her father, Andrew Borden (Chas Mitchell) a notorious, wealthy and cruel despot owned several textile mills along with a funeral home in Fall River. Obsessed with the bottom line, nothing is more sacred to him than profits. This man had casket sizes reduced in order to save money on lumber. Bodies too large to fit the smaller caskets were hacked down to size giving new meaning to the term one size fits all. As horrific as this seems, he forces young frightened Lizzy to participate with the dismemberment. He exploits the destitute workers in his mills, decreasing their already starvation wages regularly and hi-jacking their children to work in his treacherous mills. To say Andrew Borden was not a good guy is an understatement.
Lizzy’s step mother, Abby Borden (Jazmine Ramay) is from one of the wealthiest families who live and run Fall River. Her privilege deadens her to anything other than social status. She is disapproving of Lizzy. The two share an unspoken resentment one to the other.
An interracial dalliance with Tommy Thompson (Rowan Treadway) Lizzy’s childhood friend whom she can confide in is lost. Tommy is in her father’s debt. Finding love in a homosexual relationship with a Broadway starlet, Nance O’Neill (Kristen Towers-Rowles) brings Lizzy short-term joy. Lizzy’s functional relationship is with her older sister Emma Borden (Sarah Hoback). This relationship is challenged when Emma discourages Lizzy from living her gay 90’s New York life style and return to her Fall River roots.
As a school teacher, sweet Lizzy struggles to save and educate the children of mill workers. Her efforts are thwarted by her father’s minions. Helplessly Lizzy is witness to children disappearing one by one into the hellish conditions of the mills. A tragic fire in one of the mills takes the life of one of the children who she struggled to save. Lizzy dissipates into despair.
Bianca Vanderhorst (l.), Sarah Hoback, Kristin Towers-Rowles, Emily Bridges
Andrew Borden, a cruel and powerful man was murdered in his home. As in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, the death was “almost moral.” “Evil can come from good.” Was Lizzy the instrument of the peoples’ revenge?
Spindle City Lizzy Borden musical is expressed artfully in story and music. Kudos to Katrina Wood, who wrote the book, music and lyrics depicting the life of the laborers who toiled endlessly in the mills for the ruthless wealthy, and to giving Lizzy a voice.
Director Trace Oakley is to be commended for taking on the challenges of a formidable story with a large cast bringing the threads together to make a cohesive story.
Musically gifted performances were given by the cast. Standing out was one little boy Joey (Christian Simon) who radiated each time he appeared. Also noteworthy was Nance O’Neil, (Kristin Towers-Rowles) whose perfectly timed entrance exploded onto the stage with lightness and frivolity. Though the cards are stacked against liking Andrew Jackson Borden (Chas Mitchell), his performance was on point. Never overplayed as an evil maniacal man, Chas played business man Andrew Borden perfectly. Needless to say (Emily Bridges) is stellar as the lost, confused and on the cusp of sanity Lizzy.
The next time I hear Lizzie Borden had an axe… I will be reminded of the era, the conditions and the struggle. I think you will too. And you know what, no gratuitous gore.
Spindle City: Lizzy Borden The Musical plays through November 5.