From the straining and broken opening chords of the prologue to the gleefully riotous curtain music, both a rendition of the Lizzie Borden jump-rope rhyme set to music, the Music by Steven Cheslik-deMeyer and Alan Stevens Hewitt with additional music by Tim Maner and Orchestrations by Alan Stevens Hewitt on Lizzie will leave you grinning. This musical has all the right ammunition and attitude to make the modern rock sound feel perfectly at home in its 1892 setting.
Lizzie is touted as a hard-rock musical, but this gives the wrong impression. Much like The Who's Tommy and Andrew Lloyd Webber's Jesus Christ Superstar, Lizzie takes cues from the world of rock and roll but manipulates these elements into something theatrical. When you pop Lizzie into your stereo, you won't be hearing the likes of Anthrax and Pantera. Instead, you'll get electric guitars and rhythmic percussion through the lens of musical theater. The score is informed by rock but should also be palatable to those who like musicals a little more traditional. Epic chord progressions and vocalizations sweep and soar across both discs, but they're given a more alternative flair.
Lyrically, Cheslik-deMeyer, Maner, and Hewitt strike a ferocious yet empowering vein. The authors' in-depth research found that Lizzie Borden had a fondness for her pet pigeons; therefore, it is no surprise that across the discs there are metaphors where flying birds are likened to freedom. The idea of flight is often equated to escaping the horrors that occur behind closed and locked doors in the Borden household -- incestuous sexual advances and even rape. When not as serious and poetic, the lyrics are witty and fun. Bridget, the Borden's maid, is often granted some dark tongue-in-cheek humor.
Singing the titular role, Carrie Manolakos is simply superb whether belting or deftly using quiet restraint. Manolakos' Lizzie starts off in a stupor-like daze, plaintively singing numbers such as the softly chilling "This Is Not Love." As things grow darker, a tangible shift occurs within her character, making her performances on "The Soul of the White Bird" and "Shattercane & Velvet Grass" more edgy and haunting. By the end of the second disc, she is belting on gripping numbers like "Thirteen Days in Taunton" and "Maybe Someday (Reprise 2)." Then, on the finale, "Into Your Wildest Dreams," Manolakos sublimely soars.
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Offering support, Storm Large (one of my favorite contestant from CBS's Rock Star: Supernova) as Emma Borden, Carrie Cimma as Bridget, and Ryah Nixon as Alice are all fantastic. Each of these women brings a powerful snarl and magnifying charisma to their roles. Stand out performances include Large on "Sweet Little Sister," "Burn the Old Thing Up," and "Watchmen for the Morning," Cimma on "Mercury Rising" and "The Fall of the House of Borden," and Nixon on "If You Knew," "Maybe Someday," and "Questions Questions."
The only disappointment concerning Lizzie's studio cast album is that it is needlessly two-discs. The 28 tracks have a total run-time of 1 hour and 19 minutes, making them easily fit on a standard 80 min/700 MB CD-R. Despite this, the beautiful packaging and having each act preserved on its own disc pleases on an aesthetic level. The tri-fold design of the packaging and the splitting of each disc after track 7 on the back of the jacket invokes memories of the vinyl era of music, giving this album an appreciated throwback feel.
Also, be sure to catch the upcoming concert performances of Lizzie in Houston. TUTS Underground is producing the show from October 10-20, 2013. The cast features Carrie Manolakos as Lizzie and Carrie Cimma as Bridget. For tickets and more information, please visit http://tutsunderground.com.